Runtime: 92 minutes
Directors: Charlene Favier
Starring: Noee Abita, Jeremie Renier, Marie Denarnaud
By: Tom Moore
Writer/director Charlene Favier delivers a tense and captivating take on sexual abuse in sports with her feature directorial debut “Slalom”.
Favier greatly establishes the highly competitive atmosphere and attitude found within the film’s two central characters Lyz (Noee Abita), a driven and aspiring young slalom skier, and her strict coach Fred (Jeremie Renier). Although skiing is just a luxury for some, it’s a passionate livelihood for Lyz that’s she completely dedicated towards and driven to be successful at. A great drive and dedication aren’t enough to achieve top success though and Favier does a great job bringing out the intensity and even strangeness of Lyz’s training.
It’s no surprise that watching Lyz ski down slopes is tense as hell and the cinematography from Yann Maritaud adds a tense frigidness to everything with how cold the environment looks. However, there’s more to Lyz’s training than tough, sweat-inducing workouts that Favier fleshes out well and brings out the strange, under-shown elements of “sports science.” Things like Lyz using a muscle stimulator to keep her leg muscles fresh and Fred talking about working her training around her menstrual cycle definitely aren’t seen too much in sports films. It’s great how Favier brings in these odd elements of sports training that oddly aren’t too far from Olympic level training and it draws you deeper into Lyz’s experience and the pressure she faces to succeed – especially from herself and Fred.
Lyz isn’t the type of athlete that’s a big trash talker and is more of a silent threat. She’s got passion, focus, and a bit of cockiness – all admirable qualities of a great athlete. Her competitive drive and sharp focus are something. She could easily be a great inspiration to fellow teammates and maybe even be a great coach one day, much better than Fred at least. At first, it’s easy to see Fred as just a tough coach that pushes you to your limits and tries to drive success out of every athlete under his wing. However, his strictness brings out darker and damaging aspects of his coaching as he uses Lyz’s success to virtually make the rest of her teammates irrelevant. He also uses her to fulfill his own failures since she shows the promise that he once had before a career-ending injury. He’s vindictive and self-centered in a way that makes his sexual advances and eventual assault of Lyz sadly unsurprising and absolutely devastating.
With “Slalom”, Favier creates a slow-building narrative about sexual assault that’s incredibly detailed and unique yet unfortunately familiar. Even in the opening moments of training between Lyz and Fred, there’re certain actions that make you feel uneasy and know that something is off. From the way he touches her during workouts to the way he takes advantage of her naivety and desires to be best, Fred instantly just gets under your skin and makes you wary of everything he does. Renier delivers a very cold and calculated performance fitting for Fred’s actions and knowing that his advances eventually turn sexual doesn’t make it any less painful to see it happen.
What really makes Favier’s depiction of sexual assault in sports so eye-opening, and horrifying isn’t in the act of sexual assault, but rather in how Fred’s actions are able to persist and the effects they have on Lyz’s mindset. The way he takes advantage of Lyz’s situation with her parents not being around, her drive to be the best, and her naivety that comes from only being fifteen really hits you. The moment of him ingraining himself deeper in her life legitimately makes you sick and it’s sad that predators like Fred do this sort of thing so easily. The way he rips her success away from her by making it all about himself and saying if she fails that she’s really failing him. It’s a devastating showing how predators pit their victims in a corner where they can’t seek help or feel that if they do, they will lose everything they’re passionate about.
This is exactly where we find Lyz as she grapples with everything that’s happening and both Favier’s direction and Abita’s great performance create a unique depiction of trauma. Since she doesn’t want to lose her opportunity for success and is unsure how to deal with everything that’s happening, Lyz tries to normalize Fred’s abuse and understand what their relationship really is. Abita’s depiction comes off incredibly real with how Lyz’s pain doesn’t always appear on the outside and the moment of realization that Lyz has is a true emotional low that you deeply connect with. It’s a story and perspective that really sticks with you and although the ending doesn’t deliver the kind of powerful blow you’d want for Lyz, the more subtle and silent escape that she has from Fred’s control still lands well and leaves a deep impact.
Favier delivers an incredibly powerful debut with “Slalom” as she touches on sexual abuse in intriguingly fresh ways with a timely sports story filled with great performances.