Director: Charlène Favier
Runtime: 92 minutes
Cast: Noée Abita, Jérémie Renier, Axel Auriant, Muriel Combeau, Marie Denarnaud
Synopsis: 15-year-old Lyz is the rising star of the French skiing scene. She will likely make the national Olympics team. And her passion to win is matched by the dedication of her coach Fred. His inspiration and drive results in the teenager developing a crush on him. But Fred stays focused on her performance, pushing her to succeed. However, when she does start winning, Fred’s attitude changes and the boundary between teacher and pupil, adult and child, becomes irrelevant to him.
Charlène Favier’s directorial debut is a timely, unsettling and damning portrait of abuse. Slalom – an official selection in the 2020 Cannes Film Festival – is set in a competitive ski club in the French Alps in a stunningly, cold atmosphere which chills to the bone, like its uncomfortable but important subject matter.
French actress Noée Abita [Ava (2017), Genesis (2018)] is Lyz, a 15-year-old girl who is accepted into a ski club that trains professional athletes up to an Olympic standard. She is groomed by her strict, dominating coach, Fred [Jérémie Renier – In Bruges (2008), The Unknown Girl (2016)]. A retired slalom ski champion – whose retirement might have been due to injury – Fred is now channelling all his passion and frustrations into coaching and when it is clear that his star pupil, Lyz has Olympic potential, he starts to live vicariously through her.
Soon Lyz is on a punishing schedule racing downhill, lifting weights and straining her limbs to breaking point while developing a crush on Fred. She is lonely and isolated with no parental guidance and her divorced mother Catherine (Muriel Combeau) is away working in Marseille, where she has a new boyfriend, leaving Lyz alone in the apartment to fend for herself.
Cunning and manipulative, Fred alternates between publicly humiliating her perfomances as an athlete to becoming affectionate when she wins. The initial scenes in which Fred tells Lyz to strip to her underwear so he can weigh her and measure her body fat are deeply uncomfortable and unsettling. Similarly inappropriate is the occasion when he tells her to be proud of her periods.
Things take a drastic step when Lyz’s grades start to become poor. Her ski training is conditional on good schoolwork and her mother admits that she can’t be at home to help with her studies, Fred suggests that Lyz move in with him and his partner, Lilou (Marie Denarnaud).
Favier has said that making a film that fictionalises the sexual abuse a teenager suffers at the hands of her skiing coach was only possible thanks to the #MeToo movement.
In recent years many sex scandals have broken in the sports world – affecting all genders.
Favier says that she grew up in the Alps and skied competitively as a girl, but she insists that “Slalom is not my story – it’s not autobiographical in the true sense of the word….I did indeed experience someone having a hold over me, but in another sporting context. I preferred to use fiction because it allowed me to take a step back from my own story. Around me, I heard many stories of young girls who had experienced what I talk about in the film.”
Slalom is an impressive and necessary film with superb acting from the two leads and bone-chillingly, stunning cinematography from Yann Maritaud.
Streaming on Curzon Home Cinema.
Images courtesy of : Curzon Artificial Eye