Dir: Sebastien Lifshitz. France. 2010. 90mins.
France’s Sebastien Lifshitz, whose melancholy character pieces like Presque Rien and Wild Side have brought him worldwide acclaim, sticks to the formula in his brooding Panorama entry Going South. Although it toys with road movie conventions and throws in some rock’n’roll moments, the film finally emerges as another sad, introspective study of a young man overcoming childhood demons.
Lifshitz tells the story in a dreamlike summer haze of sunshine, sexuality and bronzed bodies
Fans of Lifshitz will respond warmly to the piece and it should secure the same micro theatrical distribution pattern as its predecessors in key markets. Going South has perhaps more chances of exposure than the others, peopled as it is by a quartet of pouting French beauties of both genders. The explosive Lea Seydoux, a French starlet who is already being embraced by Hollywood – she was in Inglourious Basterds and is in this summer’s Robin Hood – is the obvious hook on which to hang the marketing.
The lead actor in the story – Yannick Renier (Jeremie’s brother) - is no less photogenic, and Lifshitz’s loyal gay audience will take to him immediately. He plays Sam, a 27 year-old loner driving his old Ford due south through France to northern Spain, where he plans to visit his mother.
The film starts out with beautiful and sexy teen Lea (Seydoux) finding out she is pregnant, however. She and her handsome gay brother Mathieu (Frilet) impulsively go on the road and are picked up by Sam; indeed Lifshitz initially lingers on the coquettish Lea dancing to camera in an attempt to seduce Sam. Soon afterwards they pick up another hot young man, Jeremie (Perrier), who is immediately drawn to Lea.
As the three teenagers flirt and bicker, Sam remains impassive, vaguely irritated by them. We soon understand why, as flashbacks reveal that he witnessed his father’s suicide as a child and his mother (Garcia) was subsequently institutionalised for two decades in mental hospitals. He blames her for his father’s death and is carrying the gun with which his father killed himself 20 years earlier, intent on confronting her.
A stop-off along the way in a seaside paradise gives Sam some distraction and he begins an affair with Mathieu, while Lea and Jeremie also get together. But the respite doesn’t last long and he sets off to Spain.
Lifshitz tells the story in a dreamlike summer haze of sunshine, sexuality and bronzed bodies, and he runs the risk of self-parody in his obsession with youth and beauty. Fortunately Sam’s family story becomes more prevalent and the horny (and increasingly tiresome) youngsters drift into the background, a superficial diversion from the real issues.
The director’s greatest skill has always been to capture the aches and pains of youthful anguish in quiet scenes of solitude, and Going South is at its best when Renier is alone. The closing scenes of water and dusk wrap the often rowdy film in a gentle calm.
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