Sunday 14 October 2018

Keep Going (Joachim Lafosse, 2018)

With the likes of Our Children and After Love, writer-director Joachim Lafosse has proved to be the go-to guy if you want a film focusing on fraught family situations.  His habit of essaying extremely dysfunctional relationships continues with Keep Going, a film which sees Lafosse step outside of his usual domestic setting as mother and son Sybille and Samuel (Virginie Efira, Kacey Mottet Klein) undertake a horseback trek across Kyrgyzstan.  The backdrop may be radically different, but the dynamic is typical Lafosse; the surly, aggressive son is either listening to his iPod or berating his reasonably patient mother and/or the natives they encounter in the remote region they ride across.  Samuel is further isolated in that he speaks no Russian, yet Sybille is fluent in the language; you can sense his seething resentment towards his mother as she frequently explains what others are saying.

The pair's journey is a dangerous one, not only in terms of the rugged terrain but also because their sparsely-populated route frequently puts them in very vulnerable positions, where no help would be available should nefarious types swoop on them; warnings from locals go unheeded by these Western European tourists.  The film isn't very old when Sybille furnishes Samuel with a pistol - if you've seen Mottet Klein's impressive performance in Shock Waves (which also plays at the LFF), you'll be very aware that this is not a guy you should hand a gun to.  Given that the two have taken this break partly to get Sam away from some violence-related trouble back home (he assaulted a teacher and may well be facing a jail term), this really does not look like one of Sybille's better decisions.  That said, who better to have on your side than a hothead who doesn't mind wading into a fight?  But of course, that assumes he's on your side.

This setup instils a sense, pretty much from the off, that something very nasty is just around the corner.  Such feelings are intensified through this being Lafosse; the shattering Our Children has conditioned us to expect a difficult family situation to develop into something truly hellish.  As such, you can never really relax while watching Keep Going, and the shots of Samuel and Sybille setting up their tents and campfire each night make you wonder if they'll see the dawn.  At one stage, Samuel even claims that a reptile has found its way into his tent, and asks if he can sleep next to his mum; but is it really something else in the environment which spooks the young man?

While Keep Going is very much a two-handler, the huge, sweeping vistas ensure the film is never in any danger of feeling stagey.  And although it may at times look like an epic western, the intimate clashes between mother and son are at the core of the film; both Efira and Mottet Klein are terrifically believable here.  Joachim Lafosse may well be overdue a bad film, but thankfully Keep Going isn't it.  Its unfamiliar (for this director, anyway) milieu proves that Lafosse can take his own brand of unsettling drama far from home and not miss a beat.  In the age of bloated running times, its 80 minutes or so is a refreshing change, and there's a wonderful economy to the storytelling here.  You can catch it at the London Film Festival today and tomorrow.

Darren Arnold