Going South

Going South


Reviewed by: Jeff Robson

Sometimes it’s hard to pin down a film’s essence to a few words, but it’s tempting to summarise this review as: slap them, they’re French.

Sébastien Lifshitz’s meandering, sun-drenched road trip movie is clearly trying to be a serious meditation on friendship, forgiveness and love of the gay, straight and familial kinds. But for much of the time it’s simply a series of dull exchanges between a group of characters whom, frankly, you’d take a long drive to avoid.

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It opens with Lea (Léa Seydoux) being shown a scan of her unborn baby, then immediately shifts to a title scene in which she dances in her bikini (as Kasabian’s ‘Shoot The Runner’ belts over the soundtrack) to a clearly unimpressed Sam (Yannick Renier).

He’s driving through France, and has picked up Lea and her brother Jeremie (Pierre Perrier), hitchhikers in search of a bit of cheap hedonism on the beaches of the south. Soon after, they pick up Mathieu (Théo Frilet), another Generation X-ish drifter who constantly needles Jeremie and Sam about their sexuality.

Lea and Mathieu add to the friction by flirting openly, but the film increasingly focuses on Sam and his journey. A stop-off at his brother’s house prompts a series of flashbacks to a family tragedy when Sam was eight and it soon becomes clear that his final destination will be in some way connected to the trauma.

Meanwhile, he has to contend with the bickering and boundary-pushing of Lea and Mathieu, while coping with an attraction to Jeremie that’s clearly reciprocated. As the journey continues and the car’s interior begins to resemble a claustrophobic prison for the main characters, a monumental confrontation seems imminent.

But it never really arrives, and after a while Lifshitz’s languorous, understated style becomes – well, more than a little boring. The four protagonists exchange elliptical, would-be profound conversations that merely seem mannered and pretentious as a featureless landscape unfolds through the car window and the flashbacks become more frequent and more confusing. It’s hard to work up much interest over the eventual fate of such a self-obsessed quartet.

The work of Eric Rohmer – master of literate, introspective cinema – seems to me an obvious influence, and the star-crossed love elements recall Truffaut’s Jules Et Jim. But in choosing such elevated templates, you need to ensure your script and characters are compelling. Here the obvious belief of the writers and director that they’re making points about human existence never before realised, and that everyone will find the central foursome as fascinating as they do, is more than a bit wearisome.

Add to that the fact that Lifshitz insists on shooting his gorgeous young leads like a colour version of a Calvin Klein commercial, some plot developments that didn’t make much sense to me and a climax that seems to go on for ever, and the end result is one of the longest 87 minutes I’ve spent in front of a screen for quite some time.

Some of the scenes, especially when the journey finally reaches the coast and the characters hook up with the rest of the young pleasure-seekers, have a keen eye for the beauty of the landscape and the transient, often destructive energies of youth. The soundtrack’s quirkily atmospheric and the actors do their best with somewhat stereotypical roles. Seydoux, who’s since been seen in Inglourious Basterds and Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood, adds a depth and vulnerability to Lea’s manipulative flirtiness and Renier has the languid, troubled charisma of an older Robert Pattinson.

But unless you’re an arthouse French completist or really like shots of golden beaches and/or bare-chested young men I’d be very tempted to wait for the next car to come along. Or reacquaint yourself with the older and better movies to which this one is over-indebted.

Reviewed on: 28 Jun 2011
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Going South packshot
Tensions flare as a group of four twenty-somethings take a road trip to the south of France.
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Director: Sébastien Lifshitz

Writer: Stéphane Bouquet, Vincent Poymiro, Sébastien Lifshitz

Starring: Yannick Renier, Léa Seydoux, Nicole Garcia, Théo Frilet, Pierre Perrier, Micheline Presle, Gérard Watkins, Marie Matheron, Luis Hostalot, Ludo Harley, Samuel Vittoz, Quentin Gonzalez, Romain Scheiner, Anne Duverneuil, Camille Dupuy

Year: 2009

Runtime: 87 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: France


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Jules Et Jim
Swimming Pool