Review: 'Slalom' takes piercing look at sexual abuse in sports

French drama centers on predatory relationship between mentor and student in world of competitive skiing

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic
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A timely tale of abuse, power and exploitation in the world of sports, "Slalom" is an eye opener, an intense, searing drama anchored by a stunning lead performance. 

That performance comes from French actress Noée Abita, who plays Lyz Lopez, a 15-year-old ski prodigy on her way to compete for the European Cup and perhaps, one day, the Olympics. She's groomed by her mentor and coach, Fred (Jérémie Renier), who is interested in more than her ability on the slopes.

Jérémie Renier and Noée Abita in "Slalom."

He takes advantage of her sexually, and the movie wrestles with the internal and external complications of their dynamic, and puts viewers inside the head of the young competitor while she tries to understand a situation that is well beyond her years. 

Writer-director Charlène Favier is herself a former competitive skier, and she's attuned to the dynamics of coach and athlete, athlete and fellow competitors and the clarity required to shush down a mountain at 80 mph. She applies those factors here, mixing them with the psychological trauma of sexual abuse and the turbulence of adolescence, and emerges with a film that is as thoughtful and empathetic as it is at times difficult to watch. 

Abita is able to convey the feelings of fear and confusion that Lyz is experiencing, as well as the feelings of affection she has for her abuser. She's too young to fully comprehend what's happening to her, and she's somehow able to compartmentalize her feelings when she competes, since her life from a young age has been all about winning.

"Slalom" has smart insights about our sports industrial complex, sexual misconduct within the system and the way teenagers are thrown into the fire and forced to fend for themselves. It's not a true story but it just as well could be, and it's a story that is true to all too many. 

'Slalom'

GRADE: A-

Not rated: Nudity, adult situations, sexual abuse

Running time: 92 minutes

Starts Friday via Detroit Film Theater's Virtual Cinema

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama

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