Antoinette in the Cévennes is truly a story of self-discovery and personal growth set in the context of a romantic comedy. Antoinette (Laure Calamy) impulsively decides to follow her married lover on his family holiday and once there finds herself out of her depth, spending most of her time with an obstinate donkey, Patrick.
It is the first feature film in twenty years by Girlfriends director Caroline Vignal, whose inspiration from the film came from spending time there with her family in 2010. It is a visual delight to watch.
If you enjoy being transported to a landscape when watching a film, going to the cinema is a must. The sparsely populated quaint villages, rolling green hills, wild forests, and rocky outcrops of the Stevenson Trail (or, for the trail hikers the GR 70) where the film is set, is captured in all its glory.
As Antoinette was a character that I had difficulty warming to, embedding the story of the Stevenson trail into the script was very much a necessity as it was only at this point in the film that I felt her character had any depth.
For example, her decision to follow her married lover Vladimir (Benjamin Lavernhe), who is trekking the journey on a family holiday, is shallow and self-indulgent. It is in stark contrast to the original romance story of the trail – Robert Louis Stevenson undertook the journey in a state of deep depression when his married lover Fanny Osbourne returned to the United States.
This initial lack of connection to the protagonist was in no way reflective of the writing, the skill of the director, or of Calamy’s performance, but rather who she was as a person. In fact, it was the effective combination of these three inputs that eventually led to making her relatable, as underneath it all was her loneliness, her desire to be loved.
The empathy generated by the challenges she faces in her impulsive decision to follow her lover is achieved in many ways, most poignantly with the donkey, Patrick. It is their pairing that also gives the film its comedic elements. It is a slapstick rather than witty type of comedy, although much amusement also stems from watching Calamy’s reactions to the unexpected events.
Written and produced by Caroline Vignal, this film was nominated for Best Original Screenplay and Best Film at the 46th Cesars Ceremony 2021. Laure Calamy won Best Actress for her role as Antoinette.
Antoinette in the Cévennes is currently showing as part of the Alliance Française French Film Festival at Palace Nova Eastend and Prospect.
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