The troubadour movement flourished in Europe during the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries, but the Black Plague put a real damper on things. Ever since then, itinerant musicians and Death have been constant companions. Just ask Robert Johnson about that. An aging Japanese musician traveling across the southern coast of Korea has a fateful appointment to keep, but he will do his best to finally level his karma along the way in Forest Ian Etsler & Sébastien Simon’s The Troubled Troubadour (trailer here), which screens as part of Narrative Shorts Block 3 at the 2018 Slamdance Film Festival in Park City.
Somehow, the landscape the musician and his silent but still surly manservant travel is recognizably modern-day Korea, yet still exists outside of time. Essentially, it is a reflection of the Troubadour himself. Indeed, the pack of forest-dwelling children they encounter would not look out of place in A Midsummer’s Night Dream. Mistaking him for the Mountain God, they bring him to cure their ailing Princess. Fortunately, he has the power of music. However, he will have to travel deeper into his subconscious before he is ready to make his final journey.
Troubadour sounds ridiculously New Age, but it is actually weirdly grounded, especially due to the passive aggressive tension shared by the Musician and his “boatman” servant. The young kids also manage to be both mysterious and cute, but never cloying. Etsler and Simon have a keen eye for visuals and they hopscotch back and forth between the modern world and the inner dreamscape quite effectively. Plus, cinematographer makes it all look highly cinematic and big screen worthy.
Indeed, Troubadour is “spiritual” in a sophisticated and earthy kind of way, featuring a not inconsiderably degree of ribald humor. As the musician, accomplished ukulele player Hachi Kasuga looks like a troubadour worthy of an epic song and his music is wonderfully wistful (here he is covering Jobim). Very highly recommended, The Troubled Troubadour screens again on Wednesday (1/24) as part of this year’s Slamdance Film Festival.