Maven's Nest

Reel Life: Flick Pix

- courtesy of Kino Lorber

Intimate look at a teen athlete coping with her coach’s intense abuse

By Nora Lee Mandel

Directed by Charlène Favier
Written by Charlène Favier and Marie Talon
Produced by Edouard Mauriat and Ann-Cécile Berthomeau
France. 92 min. Not Rated
In French with English subtitles
VOD national release in U.S. by Kino Lorber - April 9, 2021
With: Noée Abita, Jérémie Renier, Marie Denarnaud, Muriel Combeau, Maïra Schmitt, and Axel Auriant

(previewed at 2021 Rendez-Vous with French Cinema of Film at Lincoln Center)

Just as France’s #BalanceTonPorc ("out your pig"), movement is narrower than the systemic “#MeToo” in the U.S., director/co-writer Charlène Favier’s debut feature Slalom is a narrow portrait of how a man’s power over a young protégé can descend from physical and psychological control to sexual abuse. While maintaining the point-of-view of the 15-year-old protagonist, Favier was inspired by experiences she felt, observed, and heard about in intense athletics, transferred here to competitive skiing in the eastern French Alps of her hometown. By the time we have been emotionally wrung through with this young woman, there is subdued audience catharsis.

The 15-year-old is Lyz Lopez (incredibly focused 22-year-old Noée Abita) is so determined to make the Winter Olympics that she insists on attending a specialized boarding school that combines high school academics and intense ski training. Despite that:
-she’s living on her own for the first time;
-her single mother Lilou (Marie Denarnaud) suddenly takes a better-paying job in Marseille, and is distracted by a new boyfriend;
-her father is mostly not involved in her life, providing inadequate child support;
-with no one to drive her to competitions, she is hitchhiking on highways;
-the school administration is oblivious to these strains on her life; and,
-most of the students are higher-class bullies, except one friendly teammate Justine (Maïra Schmitt).

But who does notice her vulnerability is ski coach Fred (Jérémie Renier). He is consumed with showing up the national skiing federation, for some unspecified issue it had with him on or off the slopes, and sees the malleable Lyz as his instrument. Favier is very good at showing how casually hands-on a male coach is with a young female athlete’s body from the get-go, with explicit involvement in her weight, muscle development, and even her menstrual cycle.

Lyz is involved with the usual high school temptations between Justine and an obnoxious though cute male classmate. But Fred comes to dominate her life more and more – even as Favier leaves some ambiguity in whether she initiates his attention, naively thinking this is necessary to be a champion. So she seems to go along with more and more of his physical, even painful, demands, with cool-headed equanimity. Though Justine says Fred is always tough on team members, Favier lets him off the hook from the serial abuser most such coaches are when his partner Catherine (Muriel Combeau), the team assistant who has been Lyz’s academic coach, just complains he’s “changed”.

Favier says she started and finished the film before the headlines on abuse of minors in sports came out, but watching since those revelations, I squirmed. Perhaps inspired by the rousing scenes of freedom yet control Lyz feels on the downhill slopes, her final reaction has hard-earned maturity that is far quieter than a Hollywood movie would consider a completely satisfying victory, let alone “J’accuse” and the film’s accompanying ”Zéro de Conduít” campaign in France.


Nora Lee Mandel is a member of New York Film Critics Online. Her reviews are counted in the Rotten Tomatoes TomatoMeter:
Complete Index to Nora Lee Mandel's Movie Reviews

My reviews have appeared on: Film-Forward; FF2 Media; Lilith, FilmFestivalTraveler; and, Alliance of Women Film Journalists and for Jewish film festivals. Shorter versions of my older reviews are at IMDb's comments, where non-English-language films are listed by their native titles.

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