By Roger Costa
As he watches a promising young tennis player being courted by the press as the next big thing in sports, 37-year-old Thomas remembers of his past glory and longs for what he hasn’t accomplished yet: the privileged status of being “the one”, the perfect role model athlete. Though the vast collection of trophies around his house confirms he was definitely a prominent athlete, Thomas feels incomplete and regrets the circumstances that took his place out of stardom, mostly aggravated by his leg and muscles injuries. As he becomes increasingly obsessed with the young man, who in fact resembles himself at the same position 20 years back, Thomas delves into a midlife crisis targeting the youngster as an improbable competitor. He signs up for the major Tennis season, the French Open, and goes on a sacrificial journey, dealing with the obstacles and pressure of the qualifying games and his uncontrollable ego. Supported by his devoted wife, loved by his playful child, and intimidated by his mother, he must keep himself in shape, physically and emotionally, in order to catch up that definitive 20-year difference match.
Writer-director Quentin Reynaud’s sophomore project is a transparent, entertaining and engaging exploration on an untamed athlete, deeply exploring the mixed-up feelings of its protagonist with suspense and empathy. There’s never a clarity of what he’s doing next, or how he feels: he is being pressured by his own ambition, but also by other parts, especially his mother who subtly pursues him to give up on the idea, but at the bottom of her heart, she wishes he had conquered the status she once trained him for. Reynaud, who also plays a key role in the film, conceives an accomplished character study, an efficient and accessible sports drama with thrilling match sequences and ravishing performances. Alex Lutz gives life to Thomas with impeccable intensity, creating a mesmerizing character, while Oscar-nominee Kristin Scott Thomas enters the 2021 hall of strong female personas, with her embodiment of a determined, truthful (and somehow hurtfully persistent) mother. She remarkably devours her role, giving it an enigmatic sense of controlling and power. Confident and authentic, Reynaud scores a precisely told and executed, gripping sports drama flick.
(Film Movement. 8/27. Quad Cinemas NYC.)
About 18 months ago we were all living our busy lives with very little time for family and friends, or even for ourselves. Suddenly the Pandemic took everyone by surprise changing our lives forever, and getting us to evaluate and analyze our human condition, our meaning while being here. Most people were also surprised by the discoveries they made inside their own homes: Lockdown forced everyone to stay indoors dealing with each other’s routines, dilemmas, as well as joys and sorrows alike. Oscar nominated director Stephen Daldry turns his sensitive lenses into the Pandemic crisis studying its effects on a couple who had been living together for years without much of commitment or understanding. Translating the anxiety, exhaustion and uncertainty of the early days of the Pandemic to the screen with an urgent sense of irony and cynicism, the film follows the conflicts between James McAvoy and Sharon Horgan, as they argue with each other while walking around their house, talk directly to the camera about their inner emotions and secrets, coordinate their child over the crisis, and provide ingeniously insightful and furiously realistic monologues.
Filled with irresistible irreverence and thought-provoking commentary on social behavior and everything the Pandemic turned upside down, the film is punctuated by the facts accompanying the crisis, such as the death numbers in the UK, and the arrival of the vaccines.
Bitterly funny and immersive, Daldry crafts another precious slice of life, a tender and unflinching stage-like rom-com for our troubled times.
(Bleecker Street. 8/27. Angelika Film Center NYC.)