“Slalom” – A slippery slope [MOVIE REVIEW]

Noée Abita as Lyz in "Slalom." Photo courtesy of Kino Lorber.

“Slalom,” written and directed by Charlène Favier in her feature debut, careens down the dangerous slope of adolescence, sexual awakening, abuse, passion, and more, all at breakneck speed with edges as sharp as the skis used in this sport.

Lyz, 15, is a skiing prodigy seemingly plucked from nowhere to begin training at an elite ski school that coaches future champions. The other teens have worked together for several years under Fred, the head of the school, and are reluctant to admit a nobody into their circle. Lyz’s mother Catherine has reluctantly agreed to uproot her own life for her talented daughter and has rented an apartment so that Lyz can continue her studies at the academy while training for the competitions that may lead to the holy grail – a spot on the Olympic team. But just as they settle in, Catherine is offered a job in Marseille and leaves Lyz to fend for herself.

Despite the rejection of most of her peers, Fred’s skepticism of her talent, and the severity of the training, Lyz begins to excel. Acing her academic classes and winning races, Fred’s attitude begins to change. He was a champion on his way to the Olympics when he damaged his knees. Dropped from the team, his goal taken from him, he started his own school, determined to crack the national stranglehold on the training of elite skiers. Lyz may well be the ticket he’s been hoping for.

The slalom is a particularly difficult event. It’s a timed race down a winding downhill course marked with flags around which the skier must maneuver. It is a measure both of speed and control, skied solo but timed against the other competitors. Slalom is a metaphor for everything in Lyz’s life.

Fred, cold to her at first, warms considerably as her talent is revealed. He begins grooming her, not just for competition but also for himself. Young, immature, and inexperienced, Lyz is the perfect target. She is both flattered by Fred’s focus and confused. Would he be interested if she lost a race? What are the consequences of his full attention? What are the ramifications as the relationship becomes more sexualized? Does it complete her or deny her an individual identity? The course of her life begins to veer off path; her grades plummet.

This film could not have been more timely as France is, finally, undergoing a “me too” reckoning. The age of consent has long been ignored, or at least overlooked if the perpetrator was a man in a position of power. Awareness was heightened when Vanessa Springora published her memoir, Consent, that documented the abuse she suffered at the hands of Gabriel Matzneff, a revered intellectual whose writings often celebrated his pedophilia. Others soon tumbled, defending themselves under the guise of “seduction was important;” although too often that seduction was blamed on the target. Depending on the strata of society or prominence of the perpetrator, consent was deemed given regardless of the age or demeanor of the targeted victim. It is not coincidental that men in the legislature are trying to push a bill through their parliament that lowers the age of consent to 15.

Jérémie Renier as Fred and Noée Abita as Lyz in “Slalom.” Photo courtesy of Kino Lorber.

Fred is an example of this type of self-ordained privilege, but as we watch the diminishment and exploitation of Lyz, one sees the consequence of Fred’s actions on her psyche. His desire for control is always at the forefront, but Lyz will surprise you in her final determination to take back her life. Like the slalom course, she is crashing down the mountain, almost out of control, until she regains her bearings and speeds toward the finish on her own terms, but considerably worse for wear.

Favier, writing with Marie Talon, has found a topic that is both timeless and of its moment. Whether its gymnastics, or ice skating, ballet or the classroom, the teacher as all-knowing guru receiving cult status creates an atmosphere that is both filled with promise and fraught with danger.

Favier starts slow introducing us to her characters and as the situations become more complex and ominous, she accelerates the action until we are slaloming downhill with Lyz, gasping for breath.

The cast is peerless. Lyz, played by Noée Abita, is all promise and hesitation. An untraditional beauty with full lips and large dark eyes, she is an adolescent on the verge. The character works so well because Abita illustrates the confusion that is adolescence on the verge of adulthood. She makes you ache for her in the choices she makes and those that are made for her.

Jérémie Renier as Fred is pitch perfect as a predator— handsome, charming, sympathetic, and self-focused. Long a personal favorite, he excels at the callow narcissist (“The Kid with a Bike,” “The Child”) but what sets him apart is his ability to reveal the insecurity that runs through his characters. It is what allows him to retain a modicum of sympathy despite his misdeeds.

This is a film that deserves to be seen, and then seen again.

In French with English subtitles.

Now playing at the Laemmle Monica and virtually at the Roxie Cinema




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