When teacher Antoinette Lapouge (Laure Calamy) takes the stage with her class of 8-year-olds to sing what can only be described as a completely inappropriate love song to a parent assembly dressed in a low-cut silver lamé gown, it’s clear she’s a bit of an emotional fruit loop. Her students sing the verse, but she joins in, dress clinging, passionately singing the chorus. Boundary-issues alert! This is the opening scene of writer/director Caroline Vignal’s comedy of self-discovery My Donkey, My Lover & I.
The audience is dragged along the next few minutes, as it is revealed that Antoinette is blindly, enthusiastically enamored with Vladimir (Benjamin Lavernhe), and having an affair with this married father of one of her pupils. Careful with those judgments and eye-rolls, viewers, because Vignal and her intrepid leading lady are setting up quite a transformational journey. It’s one very much worth taking.
Once Antoinette discovers Vlad is begging off their secret getaway to go on a donkey trek with his wife and daughter, she gets it in her head to follow him and do the same. On her first night with the fellow hikers, she discovers she’s the only one going with a donkey, Vlad is nowhere in sight, and she lets slip to those assembled that she’s following her married lover. Judged and ostracized, she decides to take to the trail alone with her travel-mate, Patrick the donkey. What follows is a sometimes unpleasant, sometimes transcendent hike during which more than Antoinette’s completely impractical clothes shift for the better.
Vignal’s story is based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes, and the idyllic cinematography by DP Simon Beaufils alone would be reason to take this journey, which goes through famed mountainous region in Southern France. Calamy’s performance, for which she won a Meilleure Actrice César award, brings weight to the deceptively slight, frothy plot, even through her frequently physical comedy. She is often acting alone, or rather, ass in tow, and Patrick’s enigmatic donkey eyes seem to be all the scene partner she needs.
The donkey chaaaaanges her, but of course he does. So too does the trip itself, and audiences will go from dismissing and judging Antoinette, to feeling guilty for doing so after she is mocked and ignored, to rooting for her wholeheartedly by the film’s end. You’ll also want to adopt a donkey. My Donkey, My Lover, and I is not only well-acted and entertaining, it’s actually quite the peaceful, yet cathartic experience, and don’t we all need as much of that as possible these days?
4 out of 5 stars