Review: An elite skier is sexually abused by her trainer in the French drama ‘Slalom’

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When Lyz ( Noée Abita ) is on the mountain, anything is possible. She soars gracefully over the snow on skis, rhythmically slaloming her way to the finish line, usually to victory. That point on the mountain exists in stark contrast to her day-to-day life training as an elite youth athlete. At 15, the preternaturally talented Lyz has to navigate her own potential success in connection with the abusive relationship that evolves with her coach, Fred ( Jérémie Renier ).

“Slalom” is the directorial debut of Charlène Favier, who collaborated on the screenplay with Antoine Lacomblez and Marie Talon. It’s an exploration of the conditions that create the dynamic that allows for sexual abuse in youth sports. The ambitious, talented Lyz is Fred’s perfect victim: Her mother is casually neglectful; her father absent. Underneath the guise of her training, a friendship and intimacy sprout. Her body is already under Fred’s control as a carefully calibrated machine, and when Fred assaults her, it seems like the question of her consent has been obliterated by his fast, physical and consuming lust. The truth is that her consent has been chipped away with every weigh-in, every meeting about her grades, every victory celebration.

Favier keeps a laser focus on Lyz’s subjective experience, with a frank and unflinching eye on the moments both euphoric and gut-wrenching. Cinematographer Yann Maritaud’s camera stays right alongside Lyz, as she goes flying down the mountain, in truly breathtaking ski cinematography (set to an ambient electro score composed by Alexandre Lier, Sylvain Ohrel and Nicolas Weil), as well as in her most terrifying, confusing and isolating moments with Fred. Favier carefully dissects the complex power dynamics at play, as well as the emotional devastation that results from the abuse. It’s an honest, and surprisingly, even hopeful portrait.

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‘Slalom’

In French with English subtitles

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour 31 minutes

Playing: Starts April 9, Laemmle Monica, Santa Monica; Laemmle Playhouse 7, Pasadena; also available in Laemmle Virtual Cinema