'Territory of Love' ('L'Autre Continent'): Film Review | Filmart 2019

Courtesy of Cinema Defacto with House on Fire
Convincingly acted continent-hopping drama.

Deborah Francois and Paul Hamy star in Romain Cogitore's Franco-Taiwanese romantic drama.

An aspiring writer’s plans to pen a novel is upended by a literally ill-fated relationship in Territory of Love, French filmmaker Romain Cogitore’s romance drama starring Deborah Francois (Populaire) and Paul Hamy. Boasting beautiful people and scenic landscapes aplenty and effective performances from the leads — with both stars contributing engaging turns in manifesting their characters’ emotional ebbs and flows, and surprisingly convincing delivery of their Mandarin lines — the film should find quite a bit of love in territories well beyond its domestic shores.

A France-Taiwan co-production backed by support from various municipal authorities in the East Asian island-state, Territory of Love is perhaps better understood through its French title, L’Autre Continent (“The Other Continent”). The movie begins with its protagonist, Maria (Francois), leaving Paris to set up camp halfway around the world in Kaohsiung, where she hopes she would be able to finish what she describes as an “19th century Taiwanese take” of Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild (the novel Sean Penn adapted into a movie back in 2007).

A free spirit in body and heart — as shown in the pic’s opening scene, where she tells her mother how her motto in life is “carpe diem” as she travels around Paris to bid adieu to her many lovers of various backgrounds — the multilingual Maria quickly settles into her new home, shifting identities by working as a Dutch-speaking guide for tourists from the Netherlands. Reveling in this new freedom, she soon finds her match in the shape of Olivier (Hamy), an erudite Frenchman who speaks even more languages (a staggering 14) than she does.

Territory is at its strongest during its first Taiwan-set half, as Cogitore’s screenplay unleashes Maria’s adventurous, headstrong persona onscreen and sets her up against Olivier’s very different personality traits. While the film does feature quite a few snapshots of touristic landmarks on the island, it never falls into the trap of becoming merely an exotic travelogue; Maria and Olivier are shown to be immersing themselves into the routines of their new surroundings, as the temples, markets and bustling alleyways provide an invigorating playground for them to develop themselves and also their relationship.

But the story starts to drag as Maria gets an abortion and then Olivier is diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia. Instead of heading to the mountains for a long trek Maria has prepared for as part of the research for her book, the couple are forced to pull up stakes and return to France, where Olivier will receive checkups and, afterwards, undergo radiation therapy. With her literary ambitions falling apart at the seams as she becomes preoccupied with taking care of her increasingly feeble boyfriend, Maria becomes increasingly uncertain of her life, turning into a pale shadow of her former assured self.

It’s difficult not to question how it appears a given that Maria would abandon her own ambitions in life for the unwavering dedication to the very demanding care of her partner — this is someone, after all, who begins the movie frowning at emotional commitment and is keen to explore new shores. But it’s here that Francois rides in for the rescue, as she manages to grapple with her character’s wobbly trajectory arc with aplomb. Radiating energy from start to finish, the actress' onscreen chemistry with Hamy — both as a healthy partner, and later as someone whose memories and logic are crushed by his medication — is more than palpable.

Thomas Ozoux’s camerawork manages to effectively convey the characters’ fluctuating physical and emotional states. Florence Vassault’s editing, meanwhile, helps to heighten the tension in the proceedings, especially when the film slowly glides towards terminal-illness melodrama.

Production companies: Cinema Defacto, House on Fire
Cast: Deborah François, Paul Hamy, Vincent Perez
Director-screenwriter: Romain Cogitore
Producers: Tom Dercourt, Vincent Wang
Director of photography: Thomas Ozoux
Production designers: David Faivre, Liao Heui-li
Costume designers: Zoe Wang, Morgane Lambert
Music: Mathieu Lamboley
Editing: Florent Vassault, Romain Cogitore
Casting: Laure Cochener
Sales: Urban Distribution International

In French, English, Mandarin and Dutch
97 minutes