Writer-director Charlène Favier makes her arresting feature debut with Slalom, a coming-of-age story set in the world of professional skiing. Noée Abita plays Lyz, a 15-year-old prodigy on the slopes who arrives at a top ski-school in the French Alps in the hope of taking her skills in the sport to Olympic level. She certainly has the talent, but there are other forces at work in a story that resonates with real-life sporting scandals that have broken in the worlds of figure-skating, tennis and swimming.
The film revolves less around competition between Lyz and her rival ski-stars and more around her relationship with her coach Fred (Jérémie Renier), who is a ruthless, unforgiving tutor. A former ski-star who was forced out of the sport due to injury, he gets uncomfortably close to the vulnerable Lyz, who has practically been jettisoned at the ski school by her mother (Muriel Combeau), who’s relocated to Marseille for a job.
If parental guidance is what Lyz needs, she doesn’t get it from Fred, who soon preys upon his student. It’s a storyline, written by Favier and Marie Talon, that holds few surprises – as the older, predatory man can’t resist his young charge – but it’s adeptly handled all the way. Noée Abita, who pitched up in 2018’s Gallic comedy Sink or Swim, is on the nose with her portrayal of adolescent confusion and angst; Renier, a regular with the Dardenne Brothers, ensures his downtrodden character is far more complex than you might expect.
Although this is by no means a film about sporting achievement, there are some incredible scenes on the ski slopes. Beautifully shot as Les Arcs ski station, where Ruben Östlund’s Force Majeure was also filmed, the downhill skiing is viscerally captured. It’s no surprise to learn that Favier spent her youth around the sport; she evidently understands what makes it so thrilling to participate in. With the film following the formation of the #MeToo movement, it feels timely too – a story that suggests how young sporting hopefuls can be both pushed to their limits and exploited in plain sight.
Slalom is available on demand from 12 February. For more details, click here.