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Charlène Favier • Director of Slalom

"Speech had to be liberated"


- CANNES 2020: French filmmaker Charlène Favier talks about her feature film debut, Slalom, a story of sexual abuse in high performance sport, recipient of the Cannes 73 Official Selection label

Charlène Favier  • Director of Slalom

Exploring, via fiction, the quest for excellence of a teenage skier (Noée Abita) who falls under the grip of her trainer (Jérémie Renier), Slalom [+see also:
film review
interview: Charlène Favier
film profile
is Charlène Favier’s feature debut. Produced by Mille et une Productions, the film was given a Cannes 73 Official Selection label and has just been unveiled at the Marché du Film Online, where it is sold internationally by The Party Film Sales.

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Cineuropa: How autobiographical is Slalom? It’s a very credible and realistic immersion into the “athlete factory”, as a young skier falls under the grip of her trainer.
Charlène Favier: I did a lot of high performance sport and I was subjected to certain forms of violence and certain kinds of grips in my teenage years, so I really needed to talk about that. There even was something kind of therapeutic about writing the film. Then, I chose skiing and the mountains because I grew up in Val d’Isère and I was raised around snow sports. I also find that the mountains are rarely seen in cinema, so I preferred to tell this story within that space rather than in a gymnasium or a swimming pool.

How did you construct the script?
The character of Liz is the guiding thread through the film. I had in mind this 15-year-old girl who’s a little stubborn, looking for adrenalin, a little abandoned as well, but equipped with a certain kind of maturity because she lives alone. The most important thing was that this character had to go towards a path of resilience. The more I was moving forward with the writing, the more I focused the story on her face-to-face with the trainer. It was the confrontation between this adult and this young teenager that I was interested in.

How did you explore this grey zone of the progressive hold of an adult over a child?
It was essential not to have a manichean and caricatural story because I wasn’t simply trying to paint the portrait of a victim and her tormentor. Fred, the trainer, isn’t a serial abuser, he isn’t a guy who’s had his way with lots of little girls forever. He’s a normal guy, even someone who wants to do good, but he will slip because he himself is trapped into that system of high performance sport, affected by the frustration that competition can generate, and the hopes of victory he will suddenly put on Liz: all of that confuses him and makes him lose his sense of limits. I also didn’t want Liz to be only a victim, but to show how during our teenage years we sometimes go looking for things that are not necessarily the right things, we can send signals that are wrongly interpreted, even if of course the adult is the one who should put a stop to things there, and it’s at this level that Fred fails. It was very important to be in a nuanced discourse and to show all the kinds of ambivalences and ambiguities that could enrich the characters.

How did you film sequences of high performance skiing?
I wanted the whole film to be from Liz’s point of view, the camera to be stuck to her for it to be a personal and intimate story, a sensorial trip, and not at all a story that judges the characters from a distance. What Liz is going through in the film is just one moment in her life. So I filmed it the skiing scenes in same way I filmed the scenes of sex, with a camera that only goes looking for the emotion and the sensation, as opposed to a factual camera with long shots detailing the action. It was a real challenge, and we did a lot of tests, because I didn’t want to show skiing the way it is shown on Eurosport and other sports channels, but to stay in the personal and intimate, in the kind of sensorial vertigo that comes with sliding on the snow. Finally, I had a very good, specialised cameraman who was very good at skiing and who could follow and film at the speed of the professional skier.

The stories of sexual abuse in high performance sport have sadly been in the news for several years. What was the message you wanted to send out by making a film on that topic?
I started writing the film in 2014, when I entered the screenwriting workshop of La Fémis, so it was a long time before #MeToo and before the latest revelations we’ve seen in the world of sport. But I knew it existed, because I had been in the world of sports when I was very young and for a very long time. And when you work in that field, everybody knows it exists. These things are known, they are just never said. I had my own personal experience, and I also heard a lot of stories around me when I was within that world and later when I went back there for research, talking to young athletes and their parents. When I was writing the film, I was convinced that speech had to be liberated. When the stories came out in the press, the reality went a little beyond the fiction and I felt like what I had been working hard to say for three or four years, finally was out there. In the end, this gave credit to my film, because if it had come out before those stories, maybe people would have preferred for it to remain hidden away. Of course it is a politically engaged film, a film that denounces something.

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(Translated from French)

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