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South of the Clouds

A train movie that forgot to hitch much of a script along for the ride, "South of the Clouds" still freights considerable charm as a motley group of mountain folk travel from the Swiss Alps across Russia and Mongolia in search of personal fulfillment in deepest China. Slim but picturesque, pic is solid fest fare with tube potential.

A train movie that forgot to hitch much of a script along for the ride, “South of the Clouds” still freights considerable charm as a motley group of mountain folk travel from the Swiss Alps across Russia and Mongolia in search of personal fulfillment in deepest China. Slim but picturesque, pic is solid fest fare with tube potential.

Adrien (Bernard Verley), a burly Swiss-French cattleman of few words but majestic vision, proposes to his equally tight-lipped buddies a 14-day journey by train on the Trans-Siberian Express to Beijing. Surprised, but in awe of their friend, they agree, but when one (Maurice Aufair) drops out at the last moment his place is taken by a younger, more mercurial guy, Basel-dweller Roger (Francois Morel), whom Adrien dislikes.

En route via Berlin and Moscow, others also drop out, on genuine or flimsy excuses, and it’s only Adrien and Roger who make it to Ulanbaatar, in Mongolia. Roger has become fixated by a Mongolian woman (Ariunzaya Tsogoo) he met en route and, after he’s tracked her down at her home (in some of the film’s most delightful scenes), he decides to stay with her, leaving Adrien to journey on alone. In the remote Chinese province of Yunnan (literally, “South of the Clouds”), the taciturn mountain man finally finds kindred souls and a kind of peace.

Impressively shot in the actual locations in which it takes place, and with a clean eye by d.p. Hugues Ryffel, pic will appeal to viewers who delight in far-flung travelogues. However, the ending, in which the audience is asked to understand Adrien’s long-suppressed emotional problems, is weakened by a lack of development.

Pic works best as a gentle comedy of lumpen Swiss abroad, and as a portrait of two contrasted souls (tightly-wound Adrien, sociable and inquisitive Roger) who gradually develop respect for each other. Verley and Morel are both good in the main roles.

South of the Clouds

Switzerland-France

  • Production: A Monopole Pathe release (in Switzerland) of a Langfilm, Zagora Films (Switzerland)/Native (France) production, in association with Television Suisse Romande. (International sales: Langfilm, Freienstein, Switzerland.) Produced by Bernard Lang, Bertrand Liechti, Jean-Luc Michaux, Jean-Francois Amiguet. Directed by Jean-Francois Amiguet. Screenplay, Anne Gonthier, Amiguet, Antoine Jacoud.
  • Crew: Camera (color), Hugues Ryffel; editor, Valerie Loiseleux; music, Stimmhorn, Laurence Revey; art director-costume designer, Greti Klay; sound (Dolby SRD), Francois Musy. Reviewed at Locarno Film Festival (competing), Aug. 7, 2003. (Also in Montreal World Film Festival.) Running time: 77 MIN.
  • With: <b>With:</b> Bernard Verley, Francois Morel, Maurice Aufair, Jean-Luc Borgeat, Zoe, Jean-Pierre Gos, Ariunzaya Tsogoo, Delphine Crespo, Margarita Sanchez, Marcelle Borgeat, Roger Anzevui, Li Yanian. (French, Russian, Mongolian, English, Mandarin dialogue)
  • Music By: