Trigger warning — this article contains mentions of sexual coercion, assault and alcohol abuse.
The article also contains spoilers for the film.
Over the course of the third week of February, the U.Va. French Film Festival screened seven movies in various locations across Grounds and at the Violet Crown, a theater located in downtown Charlottesville. It is sponsored by multiple language departments, as well as the Media Studies and Art History Departments.
The Festival Committee described these films as reflections of their theme “émergence and emergency.” The Committee wanted to reflect the feelings of extreme anxiety and disillusionment that many people have experienced in the past couple of years.
The professors involved also strove to captivate the University and Charlottesville community with stories of “young people who are particularly aware of a relationship between urgency and possibility.” Charlène Favier’s “Slalom,” the film screened last Friday at the Violet Crown, certainly fits this description.
Favier’s “Slalom” recounts the story of fifteen-year-old aspiring Olympic skier Lyz Lopez and the emotional turmoil she experiences when she is assaulted by the person she trusts most — her coach Fred. The consistent close-ups on Lyz’s facial expressions, as well as an incredible performance by the young lead actress, provide a powerful insight into Lyz’s inner life. The viewer feels her suffering as she endures a shocking betrayal of trust at an incredibly vulnerable time in her life.
Favier takes pains to establish Lyz’s love for skiing. In an early scene, Lyz is shown getting ready for a day of skiing very early in the morning. As she exits her apartment and looks up at the sky, a beautiful score plays in the background. For a moment, the only thing on the screen is snow falling against the backdrop of the night sky. Coupled with consistent wide shots of beautiful snow-capped mountains, such landscape shots reveals Lyz’s appreciation for the beauty of the French Alps, and for the sport it has enabled her to succeed in.
When Lyz competes, the viewer is completely immersed into her point of view. Favier, a former winter sports athlete herself, makes efforts to show the exact experience of skiers in competitive settings. Lyz bends and shakes her legs to prepare for the intense pressure the twists and turns of the giant slalom will put on her knees.
The rhythmic beeping of the stopwatch can be heard counting down to the beginning of Lyz’s race just before she sets off down the mountain.
The camera follows her as she swiftly weaves through sharp turns and strikes down slalom gates in order to cut her time as much as possible. Favier encourages viewers to understand the feeling of skiing with such reckless abandon, when one’s only care is speed.
Through this film, Favier succeeds greatly in establishing the vulnerability of young female athletes to their male coaches. In this situation, Lyz’s mother’s absence is due to the family’s financial issues which have been exacerbated by the price of Lyz’s specialized school. It is, in part, this absence that enables Fred to have such easy access to his victim.
After Lyz wins her first important race, Fred drives her home because her mother can’t be there. On the way back, they stop at a race track and begin to drive around it. In the beginning of the scene, it seems to be a heartwarming moment between the two of them as they laugh and shout with exhilaration. This scene quickly turns sour, however, as Fred suddenly pressures Lyz to perform a sexual act on him, and Lyz is left confused and disconcerted.
With the stress of competitive skiing and the intense discomfort created by this initial sexual advance, Lyz’s grades suffer. Her mother, unaware of Fred’s actions, agrees to let Lyz move into his apartment. Lyz is clearly reluctant to do this, but ultimately says nothing, believing that upholding a good relationship with Fred is of tantamount importance for the advancement of her athletic career. Horrifyingly, the move gives Fred almost unlimited access to Lyz and to her body.
“Slalom” takes on a mounting intensity as Lyz struggles to remain in control of her emotions. She drinks copious amounts of alcohol and begins to take walks alone in the darkness of the forest. Through these scenes, Favier creates increasing distress about Lyz’s state of mind and thus pity for Lyz that nauseatingly builds to the film’s climax, when Fred rapes her.
Favier shows Lyz’s assault in excruciating detail. Over the course of the long scene, the viewer continuously expects the camera to pan away, but it never does. Lyz cannot look away, so neither can the viewer. Favier wants the horrifying impact of this act on young Lyz to come through completely in this scene, and she succeeds.
Favier’s “Slalom” is a film of suffering. It is harrowing in its depiction of the sexual exploitation of a young, vulnerable teenage girl. Thus, Favier does not give viewers a satisfying ending, like the arrest of Lyz’s coach, or even an ending in which Lyz recounts her assault to a parent or friend.
Instead, Favier shows Lyz winning the race she had so long been training for, and then walking away into the snow. Fred follows her, telling her about all the places they will travel to over the course of her career. Lyz utters only one word in response — “No!”
It is the last word she utters in the entire film. Lyz, for the first time, confronts Fred and his exploitation of her. Even if all she can do in that moment is to deny his plans to travel to races with her, it is still an important victory for a character who has been suffering in silence for so much of the film.
In the final scene, the camera pans away from Lyz’s pained and enraged expression to a visual of snow falling against the backdrop of the night sky. Favier provides no additional information about whether Lyz manages to escape Fred’s sexual advances, or if she ever becomes an Olympic athlete.
With this ending, Favier further emphasizes the precarious position in which Lyz finds herself, and the difficulties she will face in trying to escape her coach’s hold on her. Viewers are reminded of the fact that, in reality, athletes who find themselves in Lyz’s situation never come out unscathed.
Survivors of sexual assault can seek help by calling the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 800-656-HOPE, or by exploring resources and organizations available on the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website. Students at can also get support through Counseling and Psychological Services online or at 434-243-5150, or the Maxine Platzer Lynn Women's Center at 434-982-2252.