by Alvin G. Burstein
Five years in the making, Charlène Favier’s debut 2020 film, Slalom, reflects contemporary “Me, Too” concerns. Brought into higher relief by the recent Senate testimony of several Olympic women gymnasts, and the concern about the uncertain fate of Chinese tennis champion, Peng Shuai, the movie is unsettlingly relevant.
Watching the story of a fiercely ambitious teenage woman’s pursuit of Olympic glory, we squirm as she is groomed by her coach in the course of her training, and as we anticipate what lies ahead in the unfolding of their relationship.
Noèe Abita, in the role of Lyz Lopez, the young skier, brings wide-eyed vulnerability to her virtuoso performance of a woman teetering between a childhood hungry for parenting and a woman hungry for recognition and excited by the possibility of her sexuality. Her coach, Fred, played by Jérémie Rentier, twice Lyz’s age, increasingly dependent on Lyz to restore his lost status in world of competitive skiing, uses every motivational device to drive her to hone her athletic skills, only to find himself unable to resist the temptation to use Lyz to as a prop for his masculine status.
Three elements of suspense dominate the film. The first is whether Lyz will be successful in her attempt to win the French national championship. The second is how she will deal with her sense of abandonment by her divorced parents, whose absence becomes achingly painful to Lyz.
Another is how she will deal with her growing awareness that her trainer’s basic interest in her is, at its base, contingent on her winning awards that bolster his professional reputation.
The “Me, Too” movement has focused on power/status inequities between the (usually) male predator and (usually) female victim, especially in workplace settings. It is important to keep in mind that there may be other settings that seem vulnerable to invasion by inappropriate sexual entanglements. A medical colleague of mine, a transplant surgeon, has told me that he has been struck by the degree of blind trust that his patients tend to extend, and how often they seek emotional support from him. Well-read in psychoanalytic matters, he thinks of this dependence as a reflection of what Freud called positive transference, the re-creation of a child’s emotionally charged relation with its parent.
Any relationship in which one puts oneself, or finds oneself, in another’s hands has the potential to simulate that regressive transference. We find classical confirmation of that possibility in the relationship between Socrates and Alcibiades. It was evoked, too, during medieval times, in the relationship between Heloise and her mentor Abelard.
That mentor/mentee relationships have the potential to stimulate sexual interests, doesn’t legitimate them. Rather, it emphasizes a parental responsibly to control them.
In returning to the outcome of Slalom, I want to avoid a spoiler. So, I will say only that the outcome captures the complexity of Lyz’s sixteen-year-old coming of age with stunning effect. You can find the film on Amazon Prime and Netflix.