Skiing is the ballet of the mountains – it shares a similar violent elegance, as you grapple with the elements over and over again, pushing yourself to the absolute limits in the pursuit of excellence. The pursuit can be more dangerous than the execution itself – when something demands everything of you, to give yourself completely, you can find yourself becoming blindsided by something you never considered to stop you. Charléne Favier’s Slalom reveals that when it comes to humanity attempting to dominate nature, the true fear lies in those beside us, rather than what lies in front of us.
Lyz Lopez (Noeé Abita) is a 15-year-old hopeful competitive skier, and her desire is simple: she doesn’t just want to be a winner, she wants to be the winner. Our opening theme connects to Lyz in its emotional resonance – evoking a powerful sense of isolation through its strong strings and synth. From the beginning, you want to watch Lyz succeed, to ascend the ranks and climb the mountain of competitive skiing, planting her flag firmly atop, declaring herself victorious. She’s clearly gifted in her ability that’s restricted by a nervousness and uncertainty that compels us to root for her even further – there’s nothing more human than that. The individuality of Lyz’s ability is further emphasized through the jealousy of the other hopefuls and the blunt treatment of their ex-champion trainer Fred (Jérémie Renier) – the competition, just like the cold, is vicious and biting; the mountain can be inhospitable as you ascend it. What inspires us most to champion Lyz is her unflinching dedication to the sport – she takes the venomous retorts and the drill sergeant-esque rhetoric and holds it close, having it burn deep within her, Abita becomes an arctic phoenix, the trailblazer of the mountain. As a result, Fred takes her under his wing as his chosen one, recognizing the merit within her that we’ve seen from the very beginning, finally.
Fred’s belief in Lyz fuels her, igniting the burning fire within her and creating an uproar of confidence, pushing her further in her abilities through a new-found mentor. The two work closely together in a series of sweet moments that highlight the significance a mentor figure can have in building someone’s identity – there’s an immense swell of pride as we watch Lyz reach closer and closer to the top, championed by ourselves and Fred. Then, in a second, everything changes. During a late night drive, Fred forces himself on Lyz, poisoning everything we know and understand about their relationship. Within a second, a sincere moment of human connection turns to pure disgust, as though you’ve been hollowed out. The violation is so powerful it extends beyond the screen and grabs you, turning your blood cold as you question your own complicity in what has just occurred. There’s an inherent need to jump from your seat, to somehow protect Lyz from Fred – which makes the brutality of what has happened that much more devastating. Abita’s acting is haunting– it’s as though Fred’s touch wrenches her soul from her body, creating a husk for his use. So close to the top, Fred rips this husk, sending Lyz in a free-fall down the mountain, buried by an avalanche of fear and confusion. Abita is so masterful in her performance that you almost feel confused – the physicality she brings to Lyz as a response to this brutality demonstrates her insanely talented understanding of the craft.
Favier and Talon’s script explores the psychological labyrinth of an identity fractured by abuse, masterfully navigating this transition from relationship to imprisonment – the power of someone’s belief in you can be intoxicating, clouding your mind, and Noeé Abita plays this expertly, through small notes of fragmentation from shaky breathing to slight trembling within the proximity of Fred. Having to watch her continually reform, forcing what is broken back together, is difficult to watch especially against the scenes of abuse. The cinematography becomes a part of Lyz, revealing the emotional fog that clouds her mental state, with bold lights and darks battling one another against the bleak wasteland of the mountains of her mind. It buries Lyz in a deep and suffocating arctic cold, fighting for her life; you feel her isolation and silent terror through her emotionless gaze. The same fire we witnessed kindle and ignite is gradually being snuffed out, as Lyz’s desires become warped, believing her ultimate fate is to become Fred’s Winner, as the Lyz we know slowly freezes, trapped underneath the suffocation of Fred.
Favier takes Lyz’s solitary confinement to ultimate heights, as Tignes seems to become abandoned, heightening the battle she faces; she’s alone in her battle against Fred, who looms over her like the very mountains she skis. Just as Lyz freezes over permanently, her mother Catherine (Muriel Combeau) visits. Their conversation together feels as though you’ve been stabbed, with someone slowly twisting the knife as Lyz finally breaks, with a masterfully heart-wrenching Abita releases everything Lyz has held with her, buried as it all melts away, freeing her. Ultimately, Lyz frees herself from Fred’s control, the phoenix of the mountain revived with the elixir of parental belief, she climbs back up the mountain, where she stands alone; she’s reached the peak. Our final moment with Lyz is one of silent composure. Seeing Lyz standing there alone, in the moments after her win, her reclamation of power invigorates you, as she takes back her self and her mountain. After all, it was her flag that belonged on top from the beginning.
Dir: Chaléne Favier
Prod: Edouard Mauriat
DoP: Yann Maritaud
Cast: Noée Abita, Jérémie Renier, Muriel Combeau
Slalom releases on Video On Demand 12th February through Curzon.