In Antoinette in the Cévennes, the passionate Antoinette Lapouge (Laure Calamy) is a bundle of energy. She teaches grade five and is having an affair with Vladimir Loubier (Benjamin Lavernhe), the father of one of her students. She’s particularly looking forward to the holidays, which are upon them, because she can spend a few days with Vladimir.
But Vladimir drops the news that he has to spend a week with his wife and daughter trekking in the picturesque Cévennes, in south central France. The news hits Antoinette hard. On the spur of the moment, she resolves to do the same, without telling Vladimir. When she arrives and meets the other members of the party, she spills the beans about why she’s there. She’s also the only one who has hired a donkey. The animal’s name is Patrick and he has a mind of his own. If he doesn’t want to do what Antoinette wants him to do, Patrick just stops dead in his tracks.
As exasperating as that is for Antoinette, she can’t but help build a strong bond with Patrick. Along the way, the word of why she has come to the Cévennes spreads like wildfire. She becomes quite the celebrity in those parts. Meanwhile, she does run into Vladimir and his wife and daughter. This lead to an unexpected confrontation, during which a few home truths are sheeted home.
Antoinette in the Cévennes is very much about the journey. It’s filled with humour, warmth, and joie de vivre. Calamy makes Antoinette her own, with a rich, layered performance. Many of her best scenes come from her interactions with the donkey. In one, she spills her guts to the animal about the chequered history of her love life. Writer and director Caroline Vignal, who was inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson’s Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes, builds a series of colourful characters around Antoinette. The cinematography by Simon Beaufils highlights the picturesque nature of the Cevennes.
The film is quirky and played for laughs as well as emotion. When all is said and done, Antoinette in the Cévennes is very much a showcase for Calamy.
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Alex First is a Melbourne based journalist and communications specialist. He contributes to The Blurb on film and theatre.