My Donkey, My Lover and I
 

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A film that may be welcomed by those seeking escapism in hard times.

 
My Donkey, My Lover and I
  

Given that it is most unlikely that British cinemas will be able to reopen before 17th May and with holidays abroad on hold for just as long, it could be claimed that this is the ideal time to give home viewers the opportunity to see a film shot in colour and 'Scope that revels in its setting, the Cévennes in Southern France. That is exactly what is offered in this second feature by Caroline Vignal which, when released in France, was known as Antoinette dans les Cévennes. But there's a drawback because, while the look of the film is fine and its lead actress, Laure Calamy, is attractive, the film is in all other respects a dud.

 

Mention of the Cévennes may bring to mind Robert Louis Stevenson's celebrated book Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes written in 1879 and, indeed, Vignal not only describes it as being the inspiration for her movie (she wrote it as well as directing) but actually includes Stevenson among those to whom she gives special thanks in the end credits. That acknowledgment may seem to give Vignal's project a certain intellectual cachet but, regardless of Rohmer's Marie Rivière appearing in a supporting role, this is an example of would-be popular cinema that is totally banal.

 

We first meet Calamy's Antoinette in the Paris infants school where she teaches and learn at the outset that she is expecting to spend a week with her married lover, Vladimir (Benjamin Lavernhe), the father of one of her pupils, Alice (Louise Vidal). During a secret rendezvous with him on the school premises she notices a special odour and describes it as the smell of vacation time. "You're crazy" is Vladimir's response and we quickly agree. Faced with the unexpected news that they won't be together as planned because Vladimir is instead going to the Cévennes with his wife Eléonore (Olivia Côte) and taking their young daughter too, Antoinette decides to set out on that same hiking trail, the one historically associated with Stevenson. What she wants to achieve is unclear, but off she goes despite having no experience of hiking and absolutely no knowledge of how to handle the donkey she hires as her travelling companion.

 

On arrival Antoinette meets other hikers and immediately allows her whole story to come out whereupon, with one solitary exception, everybody applauds her for having the courage to pursue her married lover. The tone here is broad enough to come close to farce and the audience is clearly expected to share this view of Antoinette regardless of the onus weighing on her as a teacher and the effect of her actions on Eléonore and Alice. Even though at one point Antoinette gets angry and beats poor Patrick (he's the donkey), we are still meant to love her.

 

Of course, one could take the line that Antoinette is simply an endearingly ditsy heroine in a comedy that may be silly but wants to be charming with it. But Vignal is unable even to maintain a consistent tone: there are tears, a sequence in which Antoinette loses her way as night descends and an injury that she receives in a fall. These passages are closer to drama than to comedy, but in this context they inevitably lack the reality they need to be effective. Yet another note is struck when, after the main characters have indeed met up, Eléonore confronts Antoinette, portrays her husband as a philanderer and changes Antoinette's outlook in a flash. In these circumstances we wait to see if the film will somehow out of the blue find a suitable happy ending for our heroine. On cue at least three new male characters appear who could fill this function, but on the whole the most suitable recipient of Antoinette's love looks set to be the donkey. Patrick does in fact play his part well and the sentimental stops are all out in the film's final scenes. If what I have described sounds to you to be just the kind of escapist story that you want to see told, then My Donkey, My Lover and I will not let you down. But for some - and perhaps for many - only the location shooting in the Cévennes will seem truly worthwhile.

 

Original title: Antoinette dans les Cévennes.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Laure Calamy, Benjamin Lavernhe, Olivia Côte, Marc Fraize, Jean-Pierre Martins, Louise Vidal, Maxeme Tvål, Marie Rivière, Denis Mpunga, Dorothée Tavernier, Patrick Mollo, Juliette Plumecocq-Mech.

 

Dir Caroline Vignal, Pro Laetitia Galitzine and Aurélie Rouvière, Screenplay Caroline Vignal, inspired by Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes by Robert Louis Stevenson, Ph Simon Beaufils, Pro Des Valérie Saradjian, Ed Annette Dutertie, Music Matei Bratescot, Costumes Isabelle Mathieu.

 

Chapka Films/La Filmerie/France 3 Cinéma/BELGA Productions/Canal+/Ciné+-Curzon.
97 mins. France/Belgium. 2020. Rel: 5 March 2021. Available on Curzon Home Cinema. No Cert.