What is abuse? Is it just an abuser simply using their power to take advantage of one weaker than them? Why would someone just sit back and allow the abuser to do them harm? Is it possible that the abuse even sees the abuse as empowering? These are some of the uncomfortable thoughts that are bound to come to you when you watch Slalom.
Slalom is a 2021 film by French filmmaker Charlene Favier. It was selected to screen at the 2020 Cannes Film Festival in the First Features section before the festival was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
So, let’s see what this film is all about.
Warning: Spoilers Ahead!
‘Slalom’ Plot Summary
The film follows Lyz Lopez, a 15-year-old up-an-coming skiing star who’s under training by ex-champion Fred. As the film unfurls, Fred’s tutoring crosses into the realm of emotional and physical abuse. It further leads to developing an unhealthy physical relationship that gives validation to them both.
The premise, especially the fact that the protagonist is an underage girl, makes this film uncomfortable. Its brilliant cinematography adds a whole layer of coldness which seeps into the sex scenes as well, making it a picturesque presentation of abuse that is both attractive and – at times – erotic, albeit disgusting. You’re forced to question your own standing in this whole ordeal.
Not All Men
Now here’s the thing, the age of consent in France is 15, making Fred & Lyz’s liaison legal. It isn’t only Fred’s actions that trigger their relationship, but also Lyz’s broken family; she’s looking for validation, for acceptance, and manages to find it in the powerplay between coach and student. She gives in to Fred’s abusive training in a masochistic manner which leads her to feel empowered. However, that soon leads to Fred making advances that result in sexual abuse.
Whenever talks of abuse and rape are brought up, many men are quick to respond with ‘not all men!’ Put yourself in Fred’s shoes, and you’d probably find it difficult to shrug off advances from an attractive girl like Lyz. However, she isn’t the only one making advances. The way the film portrays this abusive relationship makes it difficult to choose a side and definitely leaves audiences confused. I can imagine many folks (both men and women) defending Fred’s advances as just succumbing to Lyz’s flirting. There will be others who’ll stand up for Lyz, stating she’s underage and doesn’t have the right kind of emotional support to understand the situation.
The point isn’t who’s at fault. Instead, it’s looking at how and why abuse even happens. Slalom doesn’t present a wholly black and white picture, where the abuser is clearly taking advantage while the abusee is a helpless damsel in distress. Instead, it chooses to show you the flawed reasoning behind Lyz’s unhealthy submission compellingly and convincingly, all the while showing us how she’s coping with it.
‘Slalom’ Ending, Explained – Did Lyz Break The Chain of Abuse?
In the end, Lyz wins the French championship but doesn’t cherish the victory. As she’s walking away from everything alone, Fred approaches her, shouting out their future victories, to which Lyz simply says ‘No.’ That is the last spoken word of the film. So, the short answer is – yes, she breaks the chain. Whether or not Fred faces the consequences of his actions isn’t explored, but I guess that wasn’t the film’s point. This film is more about Lyz, a child from a broken family who processes the abuse she’s subjected to and learns to value herself enough to break free.
If you ask my opinion, Fred was clearly in the wrong in this film. He uses Lyz to relive his glory days, using emotional, physical, and sexual abuse to attempt to gain complete control over her person. While Lyz’s actions aren’t entirely healthy, she’s just a teenager without a safe and supportive environment at home. She needs time to process the abuse she’s going through. I found Lyz’s character very well fleshed out. Her actions, though flawed, were believable in an absolute sense.
The fact that the filmmakers have made the film grey enough to divide audiences is a great move. It makes the film layered enough to warrant a second watch. It’s not an entertaining drama, rather a nuanced dissection of the nature of abuse from the perspective of the abusee. It forces you to analyze every single move from both Lyz and Fred to try and understand the situation at play.
Slalom is a very discomforting film to watch, especially if you’ve faced abuse in the past. It can be quite triggering for some and confusing to many. The film will undoubtedly garner criticism for showing some justification of the abuser’s actions whilst also showing the flawed reasoning behind the protagonist’s succumbing. However, that’s the point.
Abuse in real life never takes a black-and-white form. Often such cases have the ‘abusee’ deal with self-doubt and self-blame, which is only made worse by ostracization when they finally speak out. Some may even find empowerment in accepting that abuse, which makes the entire concept of abuse extremely complex.
Something about this film made me think of Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash and Michael Haneke’s The Piano Teacher. Definitely give this one a watch.
Slalom is a 2021 Sports Drama film directed by French filmmaker Charlene Favier.