The English-language title of this film is perhaps a little unfortunate, since it must inevitably lead to confusion with the popular Star Trek spin-off series of the same name, something it has absolutely nothing to do with. In fact, this is the relatively little known and long-awaited adaptation of the Swiss-German bestseller novel Homo Faber, filmed by the German director Volker Schlöndorff, best known internationally for 1979's much acclaimed The Tin Drum.
After having made a name in the seventies and early eighties with a number of outstanding films, Schlöndorff has receded somewhat into the background of late. Nevertheless, his more recent films, including Voyager and 1997's The Ogre (starring John Malkovich), are still very much worthy of attention. The slowly but deliberately paced Voyager is arguably the better of these two, an engaging, absorbing drama set in 1957 and spanning several continents. Sam Shepard plays Walter Faber, a world-weary and somewhat cynical construction engineer in his forties, and also a constant traveler without any real roots, who has a chance encounter in Venezuela with the brother of an old friend from his prewar student days in Switzerland. His return to the United States delayed by unusual circumstances (depicted by Schlöndorff with more than a little irony), he then has a further encounter with the much younger Elisabeth ("Sabeth") Piper, played by Julie Delpy, while aboard ship en route to France. The two find themselves inextricably attracted to one another and a romance ensues - but one that leads to unforeseen complications and twists.
On the surface, Voyager would even appear to have a few parallels to Hitchcock's Vertigo, such as the chance contacts with acquaintances from the distant past, the 1950s setting, and the unexpected romance between the jaded Faber and a woman half his age that ultimately throws him way off balance. However, there the similarities end, for Voyager is essentially a drama and not a thriller. Although the film is restrained, perhaps never cutting loose quite as much as it could, Schlöndorff vividly recreates the period and locations, in much the same way as seen in 1999's The Talented Mr. Ripley, maintaining a high interest level throughout. His directorial touches, such as the use of grainy, flickering sequences to represent Faber's "home movies," add further interest and detail. Pay close attention and you'll find that the film is also peppered with knowing, wry little observations about human nature and differing mentalities. Shepard is excellent in the leading role (as is Barbara Sukowa as his former love), playing an occasionally arrogant and intolerant character who nevertheless still manages to remain both likeable and believable. But it is Julie Delpy in particular who really shines in her winning role as the enchanting and sensitive Sabeth. Indeed, for Delpy, this was probably a perfect casting; for anyone who loves this talented young French actress, and there must surely be a great many who do, her gestures and facial expressions when she is onscreen are truly a joy to watch, and the romantic scenes are delightful. As a consequence, having identified with her character makes the final scenes still more moving and thought provoking ... but one shouldn't give too much away in a review.
Voyager, then, is a fine adult drama for more demanding tastes, admittedly not quite up to the standard of Schlöndorff's most spectacular work, but nevertheless a film that never lets go of its grip or slips into indulgent arty pretentiousness. For those looking for a bit more maturity, originality, and depth in a recent film by a German director, this is one film that is definitely worth a try. Good show.