As challenging — and stark — as the mountains its main character hurtles down in the pursuit of athletic glory and personal validation, French filmmaker Charlène Favier’s debut feature Slalom is an unflinching look at the impact of what happens to a vulnerable teenage girl when an authority figure abuses his authority and position of power.
Lyz Lopez (an exceptional Noée Abita) is a talented French downhill skier who has what it takes to dream of Olympic medals. She’s also 15, unsure of herself, and desperate for someone to believe in her. Enter Fred (Jérémie Renier), a former champion who now works at a special school for elite young skiers, training teens like Lyz to fight for the podium he no longer has access to. Initially, he seems skeptical about Lyz’s chances of becoming a real contender, which makes her all the more determined to impress him. Which she does, but his professional interest quickly turns predatory.
With her mother working in another part of France, Lyz is left on her own and she is floundering. And, like so many real-life children and teens victimized by adults who make them believe that the abuse they suffer is their own fault — the “natural” consequence of being extraordinary in some way — she is confused and conflicted. Is she, as Fred tells her, special? Or has he done this before? Is she supposed to be flattered or furious? What will happen if she tells him no? Why didn’t anybody stop this from happening?
You can practically see the tangled, tortured thoughts writhing inside Lyz’s brain, thanks to Abita’s excellent performance. Her demeanor and facial expressions speak volumes. Some moments she seems defiant; others, her childlike vulnerability is heartbreaking. Renier also does good work, alternating warm and cold in a way that helps you understand exactly how “tough love” coaches/authority figures can hold kids in such thrall. Favier’s script gives both stars plenty to work with, and she directs them with a sure hand that shows great promise. — Betsy Bozdech
Team #MOTW’s comments:
Marilyn Ferdinand Elite athletics is a perilous place for youngsters. Freighted with demanding coaches, strict and often punishing training regimes, and physical hazards like anorexia, amenorrhea, and injury, it’s not a track most parents would choose for their children. Yet the exhilaration and accolades of competing often make it the course children choose for themselves, not realizing that they may be risking much more than they realized. That is certainly the case with Lyz Lopez (Noée Abita), a teenage Alpine skier with Olympic dreams and the talent to realize them. Her father is absent, and her mother (Muriel Combeau) is the opposite of a sports mom, barely taking an interest in Lyz’s training and aspirations. Quite naturally, Lyz looks to her coach, Fred (Jérémie Renier), for approval. Once she becomes a winner, he focuses a great deal of attention on her and eventually rapes her. In her first full-length feature, director Charlène Favier offers an unflinching portrait of a teenage girl wrestling with her emotions as an angry, disappointed man comes close to destroying her while insisting he is helping her achieve her dreams. Favier’s close observations reveal the complicated situation of the two main characters while surrounding them with supporting characters who help paint a portrait of the elite sports world in all its pain and glory. Slalom is a riveting, horrifying film that goes behind the headlines to show exactly what some of these young athletes suffer.
Nikki Baughan: Director Charlène Favier, who co-wrote the screenplay with Marie Talon, leans into the grim realities of Lyz’s situation without flinching; it’s worth noting that, thanks to her commitment to realism, Slalom is a difficult, potentially triggering watch. It’s also deeply claustrophobic; Lyz leads a life of strict routine and sacrifice. There is no space to breathe, to make mistakes, to weather the storms and embrace the freedoms of adolescence. Various awkward encounters with her peers make it clear just how young Lyz is, and how little guidance she has. She is, effectively, a child without support, entirely isolated, and preyed upon by someone who is meant to protect and nurture her. Read full review.
Leslie Combemale This film should have a powerful trigger warning for anyone who has experienced sexual abuse. I don’t think we could take a story like this one, about fifteen year old gifted athlete Lyz being sexually assaulted under the guise of sexual attraction by ski coach Fred, from a male filmmaker. Highly disturbing but sensitively portrayed, director and co-writer Charlène Favier offers the most upsetting scenes shown clearly from Lyz’s perspective. Yes, they are horrifying, but also heartbreaking to see the permanent damage being done to Lyz. She may be an expert at navigating the slopes, but Favier shows how unequipped she is to navigate these experiences. We watch this child, because that’s what she is, a child, fracturing nearly before our eyes, while still trying to keep her dream alive. It’s not an easy film, but it is a well-performed and powerful one.
Jennifer Merin Slalom is beautifully crafted. The story unfolds subtly, the characters are fully realized, the performances are completely compelling and the cinematography is magnificent. The child abuse theme is a tough one, but one that needs exposure. In fact, stories about sexual abuse seem to be in focus in current cinema. They’re not easy to watch, but they are alerts to clear and present dangers to vulnerable youngsters and their unsuspecting parents. It’s very interesting to see how the theme plays out in this narrative feature that arrives so soon after Groomed gave us the perspective of an autobiographical documentary. These are important films that can make a difference for kids who need to know how to define and resist abuse. Read full review.
Loren King Slalom is one of the best of many recent strong films — Promising Young Woman, The Assistant, Groomed and Athlete A among them — that fit under the #metoo umbrella as they examine young women and girls exploited and harassed by predatory men. With its assured tone and sharp visual style, Slalom is a realistic coming of age film with a contemporary bite. It is a remarkable debut feature from French director and co-writer Charlene Favier that unwinds like a tightly balled fist. Read full review.
Sherin Nicole There is a kind of cataclysm that takes place when a person who is unseen has the wrong eyes fall on them. Slalom is like the skiing race it is named for—zigzagging, tense, and unstoppably downhill all the way. That makes for uneasy viewing, as a very young woman is pushed in opposite directions so that the man who has power over her can win in the worst ways. At times cold, at others quietly appalling, it is a film that feels too real, and perhaps that is ultimately a compliment to its director and performances.
Pam Grady: “Hey, I’m not your boyfriend. I’m your trainer, OK?” With that, coach Fred (Jérémie Renier) gaslights Lyz Lopez (Noée Abita), a skier who represents his team’s best shot at a championship and who is also a 15-year-old girl whom he’s made his special project, grooming her to accept his sexual advances. Charlène Favier’s narrative feature debut is a tense psychological drama that limns the abusive relationship that develops when Lyz’s talent affords Fred unfettered access to her, out of the prying eyes of his partner, her mother, or anyone at the elite ski school Lyz attends. Broken up by thrilling scenes of Lyz on the slopes that showcase her tremendous talent, the film offers a blow by devastating blow depiction of an authority figure using his power to manipulate a young person. Renier effectively portrays the creepy charm of a predator, but the movie’s ace is Abita as a naïve teenager who finds reservoirs of strength that not only propel her down mountains but also through the emotional devastation Fred visits on her.
Sandie Angulo Chen: Director Charlène Favier’s drama Slalom is like a #MeToo version of Whiplash — the exploration of the toxic relationship between a student and teacher, or in this case, elite athlete and coach, but with the added trauma of sexual abuse of a minor. Fifteen-year-old Lyz Lopez (Noée Abita) joins a residential ski club and boarding school for Olympic hopefuls under the guidance of coach and trainer Fred (Jérémie Renier). His tough but effective methods work for Lyz, who exceeds his expectations to become the club’s meteoric star of the slopes. But soon his excitement of training a winning athlete turns to arousal, and Lyz, whose separated parents are mostly absent from her life, naturally clings to his praise and affection. Abita gives a remarkable performance, capturing the confusion, guilt, and longing of an abused young woman. Her expressive physicality conveys so much even when she’s silent. Favier even manages to humanize Fred — never to excuse him, but to demonstrate that abusers often come in the form of a trusted adult, not a creepy stranger. Renier is up to challenge of playing a man who succumbs to his appetites when faced with the mentee of a lifetime. A powerful, if disturbing, story of the destruction of the sacred trust between student athlete and coach.
Liz Whittemore Slalom not only takes on the pressures of the competitive sports world but presents us with a feminist awakening post grooming. The downhill cinematography is striking. Leading lady Noée Abita wears her heart on her sleeve as she manages the expectations of others and navigates being thrust into an abusive relationship with her coach. Slalom is not shy in how it approaches the twisted dynamic. The anxiety and confusion Lyz experiences eats at the soul of the viewer. Parents take note here. This is one to watch without your children in the room, but it is definitely one to watch.
Cate Marquis In French director/co-writer Charlene Favier’s first feature, a promising 15-year-old skier named Lyz (Noee Abita) is coached by a former champion named Fred (Jeremie Renier) at a skiing school in the French Alps. Fred sees great potential in young Lyz, maybe Olympic-level, but he is also a hard taskmaster, demanding the best. He may also be a serial abuser who is grooming his star pupil for more than the Olympics. Reportedly partly based on the writer/director’s own experiences at a ski resort. the drama eerily parallels the the documentary Groomed, featured as #MOTW a few weeks ago. Lyz is vulnerable, not just because of her age but because her divorced mother has taken a job in distant Marseilles, leaving the teen on her own, lonely and yearning for a father-figure. The acting is excellent, and this impressive debut narrative film features fine photography and a complex, nuanced story told primarily from young Lyz’s point of view. A timely and powerful drama.
Directors: Charlène Favier
Release Date: April 9, 2021
Running Time: 92 minutes
Language: French with English subtitles
Screenwriter: Charlène Favier, Antoine Lacomblez
Distribution Company: Kino Lorber
AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Sandie Angulo Chen, Marina Antunes, Nikki Baughan, Betsy Bozdech, Leslie Combemale, Pam Grady, MaryAnn Johanson, Loren King, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Sherin Nicole, Liz Whittemore, Susan Wloszczyna
Edited by Jennifer Merin