Life Beyond Me (2017)

[original title: Une vie ailleurs]

 

A ferry is crossing from Argentina into Uruguay. Sylvie is very nervous. She has spent a lot of time searching, and a lot of time making detailed preparations for this trip. Now that she has finally found her son, she will take him back to France with her, by any means necessary. Soon, everything will be as before – before her husband Pablo abducted Felipe and removed him to the other side of the world all those years ago.
Her social services contact Mehdi is accompanying her. He seems to fear that Sylvie’s determination may do more harm than good, but he keeps sticking around because he knows Sylvie would pursue her plans with or without him. If he stays on board, he thinks, at least he can make sure that everything goes as smoothly (and with as little psychological damage to the child) as possible under the circumstances.
I am sure you know what they say about best-laid plans. And of course you also know what they say about good intentions. In Montevideo, Sylvie is running into some serious obstacles while trying to set the wheels of her plan into motion. And in the town of Florida, Mehdi’s attempts to find a perfect solution for an intractable family conflict cause hell for himself, and are threatening to unleash even greater mayhem on those around him.

 

 

This melodrama is a French-Uruguyan co-production. And since the story is about characters from those two countries, both French and Spanish are spoken in this film. French might be spoken more frequently in this film than Spanish, but it was difficult for me to tell, because as always I was partially concentrating on reading the English subtitles and so cannot say for sure how much French with Spanish accents was spoken here, or how much Spanish with French accents – and all this distorts my estimate quite a bit.

 

With Life Beyond Me, writer/director Olivier Peyon again returns to the difficult subject of parental child abduction, an issue which had already inspired his 2006 feature film debut, Les petites vacances. The film’s topic of child abduction, and of a mother losing/missing her child, is supported in the film by the use of symbolism, for example in form of shots of an empty playground.

This very emotional film benefits from strong writing and directing, but is also carried by strong performances. Since we spend so much time with the mother, especially in the first act, and since Sylvie is often alone with her thoughts and her fears, lead actress Isabelle Carré has to transport a lot of emotions without dialogue, and she does so perfectly. Sylvie is highly nervous, a “driven” woman. And we often feel that she might crack under the strains.

Yet, while Carré has the more difficult role, and in a way gets more chances to showcase her acting talent, it is her male co-star, Ramzy Bedia, who gets more screen-time in the more diverse role of Mehdi. It is also Mehdi’s point of view which sets the tone for the film and guides the audience. Were this film an orchestral performance, it would be Sylvie who provided the ground-beat and determined the key, but Mehdi who played the melody. It is important to stress that Bedia does an equally great job to Carré, even if his role might not be quite as difficult as hers.

The other cast members are great as well. María Dupláa gives a perfect portrayal of the warm-hearted, strong and independent Maria (Felipe’s aunt), and Virginia Méndez plays the conflicted grandmother with equal quality. For the role of Felipe, the film is also very lucky to have cast a talented child actor in Dylan Cortes, who navigates his character’s various emotions without difficulty.

 

The shooting locations in Uruquay are well-chosen and the environs of the little town of Florida look very beautiful. Peyon also employed a lot of locals for small supporting roles and as extras.

 

Distribution seems to be chiefly limited to French-language releases, but I hope that as many people as possible will get a chance to this very strong film, which deservedly received the audience award at the 2017 Mannheim-Heidelberg film-festival.

 

Rating: 8.5 to 9.0 out of 10

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