Slalom is a chilling sexual assault story in the world of elite Alpine skiing

Charlène Favier’s feature debut examines the relationship between a young competitive skiier and her abusive trainer.

Slalom (2020)

▶︎ Slalom is streaming on Curzon Home Cinema.

Bringing the wave of #MeToo revelations across from the media to the mountains, this strikingly subjective tale of a French high-performance skier abused by her coach bites like a chill wind in Courchevel.

Director Charlène Favier’s first feature paints the elite Alpine ski school programme with its febrile winner-takes-all culture as a high-pressure community which threatens dogged 15-year-old newcomer Lyz (an arrestingly insecure Noée Abita). “He crushes you, you listen, and you get better,” is the shrugging advice, as Jérémie Renier’s charismatic ex-champion Fred bullies Lyz until her fearless race wins install her as his favourite Olympic hopeful.

Presenting Lyz’s subsequent sexual exploitation by Fred with deft ambiguity rather than Movie-of-the-Week melodrama, the film is careful to characterise him as a reluctant, even self-hating abuser rather than serial predator. This isn’t Athlete A (2020) territory, where a succession of US gymnasts were assault victims. Instead it immerses us in a taut downward spiral of mutual obsession and creeping abuse seen firmly from Lyz’s watchful POV.

DP Yann Maritaud’s alternation of claustrophobic red-lit interiors and majestic Alpine vistas creates a snow-enclosed world for her, in which normal rules don’t apply. Shot with a lingering ambivalence emphasising Lyz’s hungry crush on Fred, their cosy training interludes give way to coercive sexual acts that shock her into submission, the camera fixed on her dazed face.

Jérémie Renier as Fred in Slalom (2020)

Favier is fascinated by how hands-on training can warp body and intimacy boundaries between trainer and pupil (Fred controls everything from menstruation to muscle-building). The camera also works hard to put us through what Lyz’s body experiences when competing, swerving giddyingly down the slalom route alongside her, Downhill Racer style, at terrifying velocity.

Her wins fire Fred’s long-dashed ambitions, as well as his ardour – the film is especially acute about how winning tightens the trap. However, Renier finds a gruff shame in his portrayal that (without remotely excusing Fred’s actions) makes his character and motivations more complex than just ski-slope Svengali or locker-room rapist. He’s beautifully matched by Abita, who brings a riveting mixture of defiance and uncertainty to her role. Catching snowflakes in her mouth, or flitting drunkenly round a music festival in search of oblivion, she’s still a creature of appetite and curiosity, even when in emotional freefall.

If Lyz’s driving ambition, and her neediness lock her into Fred’s abuse of power (her distracted mother is working elsewhere to fund her), the film refuses to punish Lyz for her choices. Rather as Céline Sciamma did in Girlhood (2014), Favier celebrates the resilience that allows young women to rewrite their narrative after life’s darkest chapters.