‘Slalom’ Review: First, Abuse, Then a Steep Downhill

In competitive skiing, athletes balance the rewards of downhill glory against the dangers of a fall. The sensitive, discomforting drama “Slalom” follows Lyz (Noée Abita), a 15-year-old recruit to a ski facility in the French Alps. There, young skiers are molded into champions by an ambitious trainer, Fred (Jérémie Renier).

From their first meeting, the relationship between Lyz and Fred is physical. Fred asks Lyz to undress so he can monitor her weight, her musculature, her menstrual cycle, her fitness. Lyz blossoms under his attention. Her skiing improves, and she begins to win tournaments.

But when Fred oversteps his role as a mentor to initiate a sexual relationship with Lyz, the intensity of their dynamic has dire consequences for her sense of well-being. The relationship is not technically criminal, and the choice to make Lyz the recently proposed age of consent in France seems deliberate. But the affair is unmistakably predatory, built on power dynamics that rob Lyz of her agency.

The writer and director, Charlène Favier, had previous experience as a competitive skier, and she is attentive to the textures of mountainside sports and how abuse plays out in this setting.

Fred smears ice on the back of Lyz’s neck before a heat, and he picks her up to carry her to the winner’s podium — succinct and specific signs of blurred boundaries.

For the races, Favier’s camera doesn’t survey from a distance; in this film, there is none of the safety of Olympic sports footage. Instead, the camera weaves between the poles alongside Lyz, ripping down the mountain, mimicking her giddy, frightening abandon.

Not rated. In French, with subtitles. In select theaters and on virtual cinemas. Please consult the guidelines outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before watching movies inside theaters.

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