Directed by Charlène Favier.
Starring Noée Abita, Jérémie Renier, Muriel Combeau, Marie Denarnaud, Axel Auriant-Blot, Catherine Marchal, Maïra Schmitt, Dominique Thomas, and François Godart.
15-year-old Lyz, a high school student in the French Alps, has been accepted to a highly selective ski club whose aim is to train future professional athletes. Taking a chance on his new recruit, Fred, ex-champion turned coach, decides to make Lyz his shining star regardless of her lack of experience. Under his influence, Lyz will have to endure more than the physical and emotional pressure of the training. Will Lyz’s determination help her escape his grip?
For 15-year old Lyz Lopez (Noée Abita), slalom skiing in the French Alps is more than just an extracurricular activity for school. She’s an only child, her father is not in the picture, and her mother who already seemingly doesn’t make much time to be together is traveling for a new job. In some ways, Lyz welcomes the opportunity to be alone and independent, with no one to bother her while she trains and improves her game hoping to one day be an Olympic competitor, but her ambition mixed with vulnerability and loneliness, unfortunately, makes her perfect prey.
The predator is her coach Fred (Jérémie Renier, icy and downright frightening when his urges take over), initially dismissive of her skills while telling the teenager she also needs to trim a few pounds. Lyz dreams big so she obliges, quickly proving Fred’s perception incorrect, who basically pushes everyone else to the side as soon as the ex-champion sees the potential brewing inside her. Slalom cuts to some intense practicing and a gorgeously shot competition done in a long take with heart-racing music from Alexandre Lier, Sylvain Ohrel, and Nicolas Weil, and suddenly Lyz has a major victory under her belt.
Throughout much of the preparation, Lyz doesn’t even bother returning calls to her mother (Marie Denarnaud), and whether or not it’s because she feels abandoned or simply too honed in on the sport itself is not necessarily relevant. What does matter is that after one night while driving around, Fred becomes filled with lust and forces Lyz to give him a hand job, and the first thing she does upon getting home among what must be a whirlwind of complicated emotions following sexual abuse from a relatively trusted person is calling her mom. Her head is certainly foggy but it knows it wants the comfort of her mother now more than ever.
Lyz also finally has someone’s appreciation, so it only becomes a matter of how much she will convince herself the situation is fine because he is a legitimately outstanding mentor and how much Fred will grotesquely take from her. Making her directorial debut, Charlène Favier (writing the script alongside Antoine Lacomblez and Marie Talon) is unflinching in the harrowing depiction of abuse; there is no physical reciprocation (which would still be rape anyway), it’s a protégé repeatedly forcing himself on a minor and taking from her emotionally and physically. And it’s all done for no other reason than because he can.
As a result of the extensive training routine (and no doubt sexual abuse), Lyz’s grades slip to the point where she may have to be removed from the team. Naturally, Fred doesn’t let this stand but also sees another gross opportunity; Lyz will temporarily move in with him and his partner to ensure everything gets done. As you can imagine, Fred only gets worse while also delivering unsettling “motivational” speeches about her menstrual cycle. When there’s no family, no friends, jealous peers, the line inside one’s head regarding wrong and twisted affection is blurred, which Slalom articulates with petrifying realism. Relative newcomer Noée Abita is devastatingly outstanding in the role as if Lyz was a real person and this really happened. Sadly, it probably does.
Slalom takes familiar coming-of-age and inspirational sports setups fusing it with deeply disturbing abuse that continuously needs to be talked about more than ever. Imagine if Whiplash was about slalom skiing and had a side of molestation. It’s an emotionally exhausting watch where winning a medal is actually low on the list of things we want our protagonist to accomplish, with the top priority being hearing Lyz fight back with a “no!”
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com