Stars: Noée Abita, Jérémie Renier, Marie Denarnaud, Muriel Combeau
The bold feature debut from writer-director Charlene Favier is a gripping but depressingly timely and harrowingly plausible portrait of a competitive skier and her abusive trainer.
Abita is Lyz, a talented fifteen-year-old chosen for a French Alpine training programme with a view to competing in the Olympics. She rarely sees her mother who has recently taken a job in Marseilles pretty much leaving the girl to her own devices. Lyz’s coach is the aggressive, capricious Fred (Renier), himself once a championship hopeful whose career was derailed after an injury. Initially Fred barely pays any attention, but when Lyz begins to win, he shift his focus almost exclusively to her. Warning signs emerge when we see Fred casually examining his pupil in her underwear and discusses her periods with her. Then his attention becomes more intrusive and sinister. What follows over a taut ninety minute running time is a psychological thriller meets grim gaslighting procedural as Fred manipulates the emotionally needy Lyz.
The picture boast two extraordinary performances. Abita’s Lyz is initially a combination of doe-eyed vulnerability and youthful ambition, before disintegrating, heartbreakingly, into isolated victim. Renier’s Fred is a horribly compelling mix of swingeing self-pity and master manipulator – while we certainly don’t sympathise with him, the complex script ensures we understood how he got there.
Save for a couple of thrilling but very brief skiing scenes where the camera dogs Lyz breakneck flight down the slopes, much of the action takes place at night, the blue and grey Alpine nocturnal environs illuminated by artificial night, summoning up a claustrophobic almost noirish feel. In one striking sequence, cinemaphotographer Yann Maritaud, bathes the duo in deep red against the mountainous backdrop, as if Fred is brokering some Mephistophelian bargain with his charge.
Slalom is available to stream on Curzon Home Cinema from February 12th.
David Willoughby Follow David on @DWill_Crackfilm