'Beyond the Horizon' ('Le milieu de l'horizon'): Film Review | San Sebastian 2019

Gjorgji Klincarov
Novelistic drama brings the fairly recent past to simmering life.

Laetitia Casta, Clemence Poesy and newcomer Luc Bruchez star in Delphine Lehericey's Swiss-Belgian sophomore feature, a coming-of-ager set in the summer of '76.

Rising mercury spells trouble for a farming family in Delphine Lehericey's Beyond the Horizon (Le milieu de l'horizon), a Switzerland-Belgium co-production set in an unspecified French-speaking corner of Europe during the famously scorching summer of 1976. Starring newcomer Luc Bruchez as 13-year-old Gus, belatedly reaching maturity while many of those around him struggle to deal with their fervid sexual passions, the atmospheric picture is a rural coming-of-ager that manages to reinvigorate a decidedly overstocked cinematic subgenre.

The prominent and appealing presence of Laetitia Casta and Clemence Poesy as Gus' mother and her (passionately) close friend will boost box office prospects in Francophone territories for a film which proved a highlight of the valuable ($55,000) New Directors competition at San Sebastian. Further festival prospects are also pretty strong, with the romantic subplot between Casta and Poesy's characters paving the way for attention from LGBT+ oriented events.

The San Sebastian sidebar is restricted to directors making their first or second feature: Lehericey's 2007 debut Comme a Ostende ran only 58 minutes; she also helmed a 55-minute documentary five years later. Also bowing in New Directors, Puppylove (2013) was thus her first full-length outing, the story of a 14-year-old who has a close relationship with her dad (played by Vincent Perez).

Although the geographical setting is very different, Lehericey now essays similar thematic terrain, paying particular attention (right up until the finale) to the bond between Gus and his mother Nicole (Casta). A somewhat intense, even neurotic kid, Gus picks up on the rising tensions in his household caused by the disastrous effects of a seemingly endless drought on various aspects of the family's farming operations.

His woes only escalate after Nicole's long-time pal Cecile (Poesy) turns up out of the blue. A footloose, well-traveled divorcee, Cecile is clearly much more of a "liberated" woman than Nicole, who is apparently content with her traditional role as a farmer's wife. Nicole's perpetually hard-working, bear-like husband Jean (Thibaut Evrard) is certainly nobody's idea of a progressive-minded spouse, deploying violence when roused to anger, even under his own roof. And such rousings are pretty frequent: Even when the rains finally come, at the 75-minute mark, it just means a different set of problems to deal with.

Is Gus destined/doomed to follow in his footsteps (it turns out he has a violent streak towards females, too)? Perhaps not. The ever-watchful, ever-calculating kid is still very much a work-in-progress. He's evidently still somewhat clueless about matters sexual: In the early minutes, he steals a porno magazine and is intrigued by the woman-on-woman images in one section. But he seems to divine that Nicole may envy Cecile's freedom; around this time she even takes a part-time job for the very first time. Gus' latent fears of abandonment ratchet up several notches when he happens to spy the two women in an amorous embrace ("Take take take take, take me away" plead New Zealand pop-punkers The Fuzzies on the soundtrack).

Complications rapidly ensue: Jean, Nicole and Gus simultaneously hurtle towards their individual breaking points, in a screenplay — co-written by Lehericey and Joanne Giger — which takes a sensitive, novelistic approach to character and plot development. Even relatively minor characters are persuasively etched, with little Sasha Gravat Harsch stealing several scenes as Gus' tomboyish, long-suffering friend Mado.

Lehericey and Giger's screenplay is indeed based closely on a novel, the well-reviewed 2014 tome Roland Buti (like Lehericey, originally from Lausanne, Switzerland) published in English as The Year of the Drought. Buti turned 12 in 1976, but was raised in a relatively urban environment amid a non-farming family, and his text is non-autobiographical. But the template of his book seems to be a crucial element in the way Lehericey and Giger, born in 1975 and 1977, respectively, successfully and unobtrusively evoke convincing period detail.

Filmed amid the sun-blasted plains and big skies of Pelagonija in North Macedonia, Beyond the Horizon is careful to avoid precise geographical signifiers. One passing mention that Jaws is being shown with a 16+ certificate in the nearest cinema — to Gus' frustrated dismay — suggests that we're in Belgium (Lehericey's abode) rather than France, where Stephen Spielberg's smash was strictly "interdit" to those younger than 12.

Production companies: Box Productions, Entre Chien Et Loup
Cast: Luc Bruchez, Laetitia Casta, Thibaut Evrard, Clemence Poesy, Lisa Harder, Sasha Gravat Harsch, Fred Hotier
Director: Delphine Lehericey
Screenwriters: Joanne Giger, Delphine Lehericey (based on the novel by Roland Buti)
Producers: Elodie Brunner, Sebastien Delloye, Thierry Spicher, Elena Tatti
Cinematographer: Christophe Beaucarne
Production designer: Ivan Niclass
Costume designer: Genevieve Maulini
Editor: Emilie Morier
Composer: Nicolas Rabaeus
Casting director: Michael Bier
Venue: San Sebastian Film Festival (New Directors)
Sales: Be for Films, Brussels / Paris

In French
88 minutes