By Eric Campos | April 8, 2008

If you’ve ever wanted to visit the Mexican desert, but were afraid of being fried to a crisp like Clark Griswold, there’s this shot on HD feature that will feed your peepers with plenty of luscious dirt and cacti. But make sure you only come for the sights as the story that makes up this “haunting and poetic romance” leaves a whole lot to be desired.

Quiet little Englishman, Ethan, obsessed with cowboys and aiming to become a world famous country/western singer throws on his cowboy boots and hat and heads down to Mexico to find his girlfriend, Debbi, who disappeared on him after a lovers’ spat. She currently wanders the desert taking photographs – these photographs, left behind for Ethan to find, serve as a trail of clues to her actual whereabouts.

It’s a good thing this is a really pretty looking film as its more visually driven than, say, by character, dialogue or a well told story. But one will have to try to rise above their frustration and confusion to truly appreciate the beauty found in these 94 minutes. Yes, once again we have here a non-traditional narrative – a rather simple story turned needlessly convoluted through the oftentimes seamless meshing of past and present events. We’re never entirely sure where Ethan and Debbi are or during what time in their lives we’re being shown. There’s just a lot of wandering from desolate location to desolate location. After a while you’ll give up on trying to figure out this puzzle set before you and just let the images wash over you.

I yearn for someone to just tell me a story. Just give it to me. A-Z. Not that I’m against experimental narrative – it’s just something I’d rather see left to people who can master it, who can toy with convention without leaving an audience hanging and ultimately unfulfilled. And if it’s a story that just lies flat without having to shuttle endlessly through time…then maybe it’s a story not quite ready to be made into a feature film. I felt that, with “Tracing Cowboys,” the filmmakers fleshed out the story as they went, unsure the whole time of where they were going, but not letting that stop them. Come hell or high water they were going to see this film through. Their journey in filmmaking would dictate the outcome of the film. This may or may not be the case for this film, but if it is it’s a great story to tell at film festivals because it is an admirable achievement for the filmmakers. It sounds great in interviews. But what’s the audience left with? In short, a great looking confusing mess. Cineastes will boo it for its alienating narrative. Film festival snobs will champion it for its “original” and “thought provoking” storytelling format. There you have it – you should now know whether this film is for you or not. I think I’ve made it clear what side of the fence I sit on.

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