Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Charlène Favier
Writer: Charlène Favier, Marie Talon
Cast: Noée Abita, Jérémie Renier, Marie Danarnaud, Muriel Combeau, Maïra Schmitt, Axel Auriant
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 4/6/21
Opens: April 9, 2021
Take it from me. If you have ever taught in regular New York City public high schools, do not expect students to be motivated, to be eager to learn about the Congress of Vienna, to recite answers longer than 20 seconds lest they incur the ribbing of their friends, or even to show interest that they genuinely feel. Coaching sports; that’s different. Put the trainer on the basketball court, on the baseball diamond, on the 50 yard line, and you’ll get quite a different response. However even there, coaches may find that their junior varsity troupe will not put up with solid, tough preparation for the game.
In France, things may be different as co-writer and director Charlène Favier finds in her first full-length narrative film. Having given us “Odol Gorri” about a fifteen-year-old who escapes from a juvenile center, hides in a fishing boat, and finds herself and the crew at sea, Favier, with the input of co-writer Marie Talon (in her first screenplay), takes us to the French Alps. There coach Fred (Jérémie Renier) is the star attraction at an elite French ski school. Though teachers are not supposed to show favoritism, Fred is taken by Lyz Lopez (Noée Abita), who is the most likely to bring back the gold in an upcoming ski-race competition.
Fifteen-year-old Lyz (twenty-one at the time of the filming) is in virtually every frame, the teen showing in D.P. Yann Maritoud’s close-ups almost all the conflicted expressions that a young woman can exude. Feeling great joy at one moment, she is depressed and disgusted with herself in another. Physically attracted to the coach (who in real life is forty at the time of the filming), she needs a father figure since her own has been absent. Since Fred appears with her day and night, even boarding her with him and his girlfriend Lilou (Marie Denarnaud) to enable the failing student to catch up academically with her classes, we know where this is headed. Fred soon escalates the abuse he gives her in the training. Making her lift weights that look to compete with her own weight of 110, he erupts with passion as she needs next to him in the car, later consummating the sexual act which will make the virginal girl both elated and confused.
Is Fred acting professionally? Hardly. His girlfriend quickly sees what’s going on, though the girl’s mother, who is unable to spend much time with her because of a job in Marseilles and who from time to time reminds Lyz how much she is sacrificing for her, remains clueless. Of course the whole story reminds us of gynecologist Dr. George Tyndall who abused 700 women over a 17-year-period, but there are differences. The age of consent in France is 15, though there may be a question of legality when an older man with influence on a teen takes advantage of the situation.
The movie is set in Les Arcs ski station which cinephiles will recognize as the location of the wonderful “Force Majeure” about a man who, during an avalanche, runs from his family in search of safety for himself. Noée Abita is a find, a young woman who made her debut as the title character in “Ava,” about a 13-year-old who knows that she will lose her sight earlier than expected. There are a few shots of professional skiers slaloming down the slope, zig-zagging between markers in races where both speed and agility are everything. In the dramatic conclusion, Lyz must decide what to do when Fred promises to remain virtually her private trainer, looking forward to a competition in the U.S. at Beaver Creek, Colorado. You may recall a similar, momentary decision of a young delinquent, Colin Smith, in Tony Richardson’s 1962 “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner.”
The movie is a Cannes selection. In French with English subtitles.
92 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – A-
Overall – B+