A predatory prostitute with unsavory intentions befriends a young country girl in “Behind Me,” an unsettling, intimate sophomore feature from French-Canadian helmer Rafael Ouellet (“Mona’s Daughters”) that works on several levels but often feels less than cohesive. Motivation is signaled more strongly in the pressbook than in the story, and Ouellet’s lensing is inconsistent, but he’s got a sure hand with his top-notch young thesps, and there’s enough visual and emotional interest onscreen to keep auds focused. Unquestionably a fest item, theatrical will be limited to the Canadian arthouse scene.
Worldly bad girl Betty (Carina Caputo), 23, arrives in a provincial town vaguely claiming to be simply wandering through. She latches on to 14-year-old Lea (Charlotte Legault), a naive, stunning blonde with pink barrettes and an air of straight-laced virginity. Raised by her grandmother, Lea is the product of a teenage mother (unseen) who’s not much of a role-model for her cautious daughter, but Betty’s taboo-breaking ways and bragging about clubbing and travel capture the bored adolescent’s imagination.
After several weeks ingratiating herself, Betty pressures Lea to go for a girls’ weekend in the city, checking into a fancy hotel and introducing the much younger girl to cocaine and K. Then it’s on to a strip club, where Betty struts her stuff, and tries to convince a reluctant Lea to do the same. This is unquestionably the strongest scene, largely thanks to Ouellet’s insistence on underplaying and Legault’s nuanced performance. With her silent, wide-eyed stare of dawning comprehension, in just 30 seconds auds can hear the monumental clatter of innocence smashing onto the cheap parquet.
According to the press notes, Betty is recruiting Lea so she can win freedom from her pimp (Patrice Dubois), but nowhere is this clear, or even suggested, in the finished product, and the film’s biggest failure is its inability to explain why Betty is devoting so much time and effort to this one girl. The script fails to convey the sense that Betty is weary of a life that supplies her with a nice car and wads of cash; in fact, she seems eager to return to the excitement.
An editor and d.p. on the films of Denis Cote, Ouellet is far less coldly cerebral than his colleague, and his visuals are often striking, especially in early scenes when he uses color and sharpness with a hyperrealist intensity. However this is soon abandoned, increasing the sense the director is trying on various styles; likewise, a soccer match goes in and out of focus for no discernible reason. Still, with his undoubted tech abilities, and a flair for coaxing first-rate perfs, Ouellet proves he’s a talent to watch.