Written and directed by Quentin Reynaud, Final Set tells the story of Thomas. Once a teenaged tennis prodigy, he is now 37, and has had three operations on his knee. Despite these obvious drawbacks, he decides to take a final crack at the qualifying rounds for the French Open.
In many ways a standard sports-film: impossible odds; likeable, outlier hero; suspenseful scenes of play-Final Set manages to be something more as well. At nearly two hours, it’s a slow burn. Thomas is not just a has-been sports star, but a man on the cusp of mid-life, unable to envisage any other career, and struggling to forge his identity away from centre-court. His relationship with his mother Judith, played by the marvellous Kristen Scott Thomas, is complex. His wife Eve (Ana Girardot) , also once a great player, is patiently supportive, but with a toddler to care for, and her own desire to return to study, she has had enough.
Alex Lutz puts in an outstanding performance as Thomas. Reynaud’s screenplay delivers rounded, authentic, and all-too-human characters. And with the combination of cinematography by Vincent Mathias, and outstanding editing by Jean-Baptiste Beaudoin, the tension, both sporting and psychological, never lets up.
Final Set is an unashamed hymn of love to the sport of tennis. Yet within that framework it delivers some serious material. This is not just about Thomas’s mid-life crisis. It is also about Eve who, like so many women, has put her own career and ambitions on hold, to support her prodigy-husband. And it is about Judith and her doubts about whether she did the right thing by her son in pushing him into competition as a child.
This is no glib, cliched “Rocky” narrative. Thomas is the under-dog, certainly, but no figure of pathos, or obvious hero. Reynaud allows the audience to make their own minds up whether they should applaud Thomas or roll their eyes at him. It is intelligent film-making brought to an often simplistic genre.
Does Thomas win? No spoilers here. Let’s just say, cinema is the winner!
Final Set is currently showing as part of the Alliance Française French Film Festival at Palace Nova Eastend and Prospect.
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