A French teen ski champion navigates sexual exploitation by her male coach in Charlène Favier’s difficult but impressive debut
Is this a tale of abuse, or forbidden love? Or is there something insidious in asking that question, suggesting an ambiguity that will err leniently on the side of love? Slalom is the debut feature by director and co-writer Charlène Favier, who has indicated that it is drawn from personal experience and her own teen years growing up in the ski resort of Val-d’Isère in south-eastern France. It is impeccably acted and beautifully shot, although I wondered if it is burdened by a softcore-tasteful aesthetic and a tactful reluctance to take its own narrative implications very far. The movie finishes on an unresolved chord, as if we have left the story months or years before the actual scandalous denouement. But it is arguably faithful to the mood of messy bewilderment and frustration that governs the ongoing situation.
A retired slalom ski champion – whose retirement might have been due to injury – is now pouring all his passion and frustration into coaching in a facility leased from a school. This is Fred, played by Jérémie Renier, who is a fierce and exacting teacher of teenage skiers, turning them into possible national champions and even future contestants at the Olympic Games. Almost from the very first, it is clear that his star pupil is 16-year-old Lyz, played by Noée Abita, who has got what it takes both in terms of skill and energy but also those dark, fissile ingredients of submission and self-abasement. Her divorced mum Catherine (Muriel Combeau) is away working in Marseille, and has a new boyfriend there, leaving Lyz alone in the apartment.