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Indie Focus: Sports and abuse in ‘Slalom’

Hello! I’m Mark Olsen. Welcome to another edition of your regular field guide to a world of Only Good Movies.

The SAG Awards were presented last weekend, with prizes in the movie categories going to Chadwick Boseman, Viola Davis, Yuh-Jung Youn, Daniel Kaluuya and “The Trial of the Chicago 7” cast. It was the first time all four individual movie honors went to people of color. Glenn Whipp took a look at what the winners might mean moving forward, as the quartet of SAG acting winners have gone on to win on Oscar night in two of the last three years.

This being such an out-of-the-ordinary awards season, there is much anticipation about the Oscars show itself, particularly coming together under the supervision of producers Stacey Sher, Jesse Collins and Steven Soderbergh. Part of their plan includes using L.A.’s historic Union Station for what looks to be a most out-of-the-ordinary show, but The Times’ Carolina Miranda wrote a thoughtful and provocative essay on why they should have picked the Music Center instead.

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As she wrote, “Choosing Union Station feels like a glaring missed opportunity. Not only is the Music Center set up for an event like the Oscars — in a place that doesn’t inconvenience thousands of passengers daily — its role as a performing arts venue would have allowed the academy to show solidarity with cultural spaces that have been shuttered, not to mention economically crushed, by the pandemic.”

Film at Lincoln Center is presenting a virtual retrospective of recent work by Korean actress Yuh-Jung Youn, SAG winner and an Oscar nominee for supporting actress for her role in “Minari.” Running April 9-18, the tribute includes Im Sang-soo’s “The Housemaid,” Hong Sang-soo’s “In Another Country,” E J-yong’s “The Bacchus Lady” and Kim Cho-hee’s “Lucky Chan-sil” along with a conversation with Youn. Tickets and more info are available here.

This week on “The Envelope” podcast, Yvonne Villarreal talks to actress Kate Mara about her role in the recent TV series “A Teacher,” an adaptation/expansion of the 2013 film of the same name. Both iterations deal with the relationship between a female high school teacher and a male student, but, as Mara said, creator Hannah Fidell “really wanted to make sure we were telling a story that hadn’t been told before and she realized and recognized that the aftermath, and focusing on consequences of the choices that you make — that sort of thing hadn’t really been explored as often. That was a really important part of it for me.”

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‘Slalom’

Directed and cowritten by Charlène Favier, “Slalom” is based in part on her own experiences as a young competitive skier. In the film, 15-year-old Lyz (Noée Abita) begins training with a coach, Fred (Jérémie Renier), who at first takes her under his wing but eventually takes advantage of his power over her. The film was selected for competition at the 2020 Cannes Film Festival before the event was canceled and is now playing at Laemmle Virtual Cinema and at newly reopened Laemmle venues in Santa Monica and Pasadena.

For The Times, Katie Walsh wrote, “Favier keeps a laser focus on Lyz’s subjective experience, with a frank and unflinching eye on the moments both euphoric and gut-wrenching … as she goes flying down the mountain, in truly breathtaking ski cinematography (set to an ambient electro score composed by Alexandre Lier, Sylvain Ohrel and Nicolas Weil), as well as in her most terrifying, confusing and isolating moments with Fred. Favier carefully dissects the complex power dynamics at play, as well as the emotional devastation that results from the abuse. It’s an honest, and surprisingly, even hopeful portrait.”

For Vulture, Bilge Ebiri wrote, “The film is too rich and too human for any kind of categorization. But for all its beauty, it’s also quite an unsettling watch — a delicate, authentic look at the complicated ways in which abuse works. … A more conventional, satisfying narrative would have perhaps moved toward a kind of horrifying clarity. But in refusing to offer us a clear resolution, ‘Slalom’ suggests something even more horrifying — which such stories rarely do.”

For IndieWire, David Ehrlich wrote that the film “is a familiar story of sexual abuse, but one told with such bracing intensity that it snaps across your face like a blast of cold mountain air. … It leans into every turn like it’s already charted the fastest course to the bottom. But predictability can be a necessary ingredient for precision, and ‘Slalom’ is so effective because of how well it tucks into the heart of its story, as though shaving a few milliseconds off its running time might be the difference between victory and a lifetime of victimhood.”

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For Variety, Jessica Kiang wrote, “Abita, so frequently in closeup, is tremendous in a difficult, demandingly intimate role that clearly understands that showing the complex processes by which a victim might blame herself for her own abuse is not victim-blaming. In fact it’s a vital part of exposing the mechanics of sexual predation in the world of competitive sports and beyond: ‘Slalom’ is a deeply personal story that also functions as almost a psychological prototype for a hundred recent #MeToo headline-makers. Well-made, perceptively performed and deeply enraging, it’s a difficult but necessary watch because of, not despite, the awful predictability and familiarity of a storyline that never deviates from its set course but only picks up momentum, and only ever moves in one direction: downhill.”

A woman at the bottom of a ski run.
Noée Abita in “Slalom.”
(Kino Lorber)

‘Moffie’

Directed and co-written by Oliver Hermanus, based on the autobiographical novel by Andre Carl van der Merwe, “Moffie” is the story of a gay teenager, Nicholas (Kai Luke Brummer), fulfilling his compulsory military service in 1981 South Africa. The movie is available on digital and VOD and is playing in-person at Laemmle theaters.

For The Times, Robert Abele wrote, “Hermanus, as a Black, queer South African, isn’t about to paint Nicholas’ predicament as on a par with apartheid’s true victims. But the emotional intelligence he infuses ‘Moffie’ with — all the way through its inevitable march to the front line — feels personal nonetheless, and empathetically inquisitive about the kind of masculine indoctrination that fuels oppression through rituals of violence and the criminalizing of identity.”

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For the New York Times, Glenn Kenny wrote, “In the world of this army, merely exchanging a glance with another soldier could kick up enough homophobic fear and rage to start a riot. The director Oliver Hermanus also draws from Claire Denis’s ‘Beau Travail’ in depicting attractive young male bodies. He gets too arty with the soundtrack at times — scoring a ‘Fight Club’-like ‘spin the bottle’ game to Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor is a bit much — but in depicting the horrific specifics of this particular man’s awful military experience, Hermanus delivers in abundance.”

For Variety, Guy Lodge wrote, “Following three fine features of steadily increasing ambition, ‘Moffie’ is Hermanus’ masterpiece in the true sense of the term: the film that consolidates all the promise and preoccupations of his previous work into one quite stunning feat of formal and narrative artistry, establishing him quite plainly as South Africa’s most vital contemporary filmmaker.”

A young man shares a tent with fellow soldiers.
Kai Luke Brummer in Oliver Hermanus’ “Moffie.”
(IFC Films)

‘The Power’

Written and directed by Corinna Faith, “The Power” is set during the 1974 London blackouts, as a young nurse named Val (Rose Williams) works the night shift at a hospital and ends up having encounters with the paranormal. The movie is streaming on Shudder.

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For The Times, Noel Murray wrote that if the film “weren’t angling to be a horror film, it might be a decent drama. … But as soon as the genre elements start creeping into the picture, ‘The Power’ quickly dims. Rather than craftily building suspense and establishing a meaningful supernatural mythology, Faith throws a bunch of visual clichés onto the screen.”

For the New York Times, Kristen Yoonsoo Kim wrote, “By the final act, ‘The Power’ reveals a double meaning with its title, with Faith introducing a feminist-bent social commentary — it refers not just to electrical power but the manipulative kind. Unfortunately, that message and the previous happenings feel so disjointed that the film stumbles in delivering a cohesive vision.”

For the Guardian, Cath Clarke wrote, “After a bit of a damp start, the scares are merciless. Demonically possessed characters convulsing are ten a penny in horror movies, but Val’s limbs twist like she’s a doll being yanked by a spiteful toddler. It’s unbearable to see in places, especially since Val has already suffered so much. Now some kind of malevolent force is taking over her body, another violation. Empowerment for female victims comes late in the day too, making this a raw and painful watch.”

A nurse smooths a sheet.
Rose Williams in the movie “The Power.”
(Laura Radford/Shudder)

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