I saw this movie over a year ago at Minneapolis-St Paul Film Festival and finally, it gets a US distribution in July. Ever since I saw Call My Agent! on Netflix a few years ago, I absolutely adore most of the cast, including Laure Calamy who played Noémie. Here she plays Antoinette, a school teacher who’s having an affair with a married colleague, Vladimir (Benjamin Lavernhe). She had been looking forward to her Summer holiday with her secret lover, only to find out that he’s unable to go because his wife organized a surprise trekking holiday in the Cévennes National Park. In fact the original French title is Antoinette dans les Cévennes, but of course, it must have been simplified for the non-French speaking audience.
Calamy is such an instantly likable actress with a wonderful gift of physical comedy, which is put to good use by writer/director Caroline Vignal. In the same way as Noémie, Antoinette is flawed and perhaps even hapless, but you can’t help but root for her. It’s quite amusing that her character is also pining for a man she can’t have and she’s determined to have him, including tracking Vladimire all the way to Cévennes. I love the setting in the mountainous region of southern France with its remote hilltop villages that made it popular for hikers and tourists who love the outdoors. Because of the hilly terrain, the cottages people stay at offer donkey rental to carry their luggage and so a donkey named Patrick is assigned to Antoinette. He’s perhaps the most memorable movie donkey I’ve seen since the voiced by Eddie Murphy in Shrek, but far less annoying.
Inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson’s Travels With a Donkey in the Cévennes, this one more of a misadventure comedy than a rom-com. Antoinette spends more time with her donkey (likely multiple donkeys were used as Patrick) than with her secret lover, nor other men for that matter. Calamy’s effortless charm and comedic chops are so wonderful to watch as she tries her best to get Patrick to move his um, ass. At first, it seems impossible to get Patrick to co-operate but of course in time they. form an unlikely bond. Thanks to Vigal’s shrewd and sprightly script, the movie never veers to absurdity despite some of the ridiculous scenarios they find themselves in.
There’s more chemistry between Antoinette and Patrick than she has with Vladimir, though there are some hilarious moments with them as well as with his wife and daughter who happens to be one of Antoinette’s pupils. She might be a teacher but it’s Antoinette herself who gains her own teachable moment in the end. The viewers already know Vladimir isn’t the kind of man well worth her time, so it’s great to see that she sees that in the end as she comes into her own. Calamy won the Best Actress César Award for her performance here and I hope that’ll lead to more film roles for her in the future.
The movie could very well double as a cinematic travel brochure for Cévennes, a part of France I’ve never seen on screen before. The cinematography by Simon Beaufils and music by Matei Bratescot add to a pleasant viewing experience. Given that this movie was also César-nominated for Best Film and Best Original Screenplay, I’m surprised it took so long to find international distribution. I’m glad US viewers will be able to see this as it’s playing in some local theaters. I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing this again when it arrives on streaming and hope to see more of miss Calamy in more movies!
Have you seen My Donkey, My Lover & I? I’d love to hear what you think!