by Hope Madden
As her camera races down the mountains of Val-d’Isère, writer/director Charlène Favier depicts both thrill and isolation in equal measure.
It’s a tone that fits more than just the competitive Alpine skiing that sits at the center of her latest film Slalom. The breathless and somewhat terrifying imagery is a perfect characterization of wunderkind skier Lyz Lopez’s (Noée Abita) particular coming of age.
At 15, Lyz is in training but on her own. Her mother has taken work quite a distance away, so Lyz will be looking after herself on weekends, training at a facility and studying schoolwork on weekdays.
She’s also quite heartbreakingly looking for somebody who won’t let her down.
Abita’s performance is equally aching and frustrating, which makes her a painfully realistic adolescent. Faviere wisely limits Lyz’s actual dialog, allowing the performance to become more observational. Lyz watches and processes, her awkwardness, stillness, and anger telling us more than words ever could.
There’s a lived-in feel to this film, likely born of the filmmaker’s experience growing up in Val-d’Isère. The training, the experiences of team and competition, the beautiful but frigid landscape create an organic backdrop to the larger drama, a complex and soberingly authentic exploration of abuse.
The sports movie genre is littered with tales of the could-have-been athlete who regains what legitimacy he can by shepherding the next phenom. Jérémie Renier offers nary a false note as charismatic, tough-as-nails trainer Fred, whose moral weaknesses far outweigh any coaching talent.
Faviere’s take on the situation is even-handed. She never stoops to melodrama, never paints Lyz as a faultless innocent. The character’s complexities, particularly given Abita’s assured performance, only ensure that the film leaves more of a mark.