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This is one of those movies where you really have to read the full title before you give up on it. That “and I” is crucial. This clumsy wording is a recasting of the movie’s actual French title, “Antoinette dans les Cévennes,” which even someone who flunked French might be able to translate into “Antoinette in the Cévennes,” a straightforward enough title except I suppose the assumption is that few Americans know what the Cévennes are.
What they are is a mountain range in south-central France, one famously explored by the Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson in 1878, chronicled in his book Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes. Not famously enough, apparently. Famously enough, on the other hand, to still fuel tourism in the region—hiking treks, with or without a donkey, are a big draw there. Antoinette, the title character of the French title, goes for the donkey option on an impulsive jaunt to the Cévennes to follow her married lover.
We don’t see this coming in the movie’s opening scene, featuring schoolteacher Antoinette (Laure Calamy, whose “Call My Agent” fame stateside was probably instrumental in getting this movie a U.S. distributor) changing into a gown while her students keep their heads on their desk prior to a grade-school talent show recital. What we do see is a character so spontaneous that she’s willing to risk being seen half-naked by a class full of kids.
The father of one of the kids, Vladimir (Benjamin Lavernhe), is the lover, and after the recital, which was an end-of-school affair, Antoinette is practically giddy about taking off on vacation with him. But no. The adulterous interlude is being usurped by a family trip to the Cévennes. Daughter Alice (Louise Vidal), enchanted by Stevenson, has begged for the trip. In what we understand as a characteristically nutty move, Antoinette books her own hike.
With a donkey, a charming grayish one named Patrick. On her introduction to her hiking group, she learns that none of the others took the donkey option. Antoinette has no experience with animals, no idea of how to tie a slipknot, and really inappropriate hiking footgear. (They’re Nike basketball shoes.)
Refreshingly, the movie, written and directed by Caroline Vignal, doesn’t lean too hard on Antoinette’s utter unsuitability to outdoor life; the footage of her chasing the donkey is mercifully brief. As it happens, Patrick is a companionable soul who forges a seemingly real connection to Antoinette. His affinity is explicitly expressed when Antoinette finally runs into Vladimir and family: he brays, for the first time, at Vladimir’s wife.
At this occasion, Vladimir freaks out. Not enough to prevent him from taking Antoinette out into the woods for a quickie later that night. As it happens, Vladimir’s wife, Elénore (Olivia Côte) knows all about Vladimir’s erotic indiscretions, and the sequence where she tells Antoinette all about it as Patrick nods impassively is quite the comedic lulu.
It will come as no surprise that the journey becomes one of self-realization for Antoinette, as her trek with Patrick infuses her with a new sense of self-worth. A pretty horny one too, including not one but two meet-cutes and one “that-happened” hookup and ends with another hookup to come. Without a single arthouse touch, this ultimately charming trifle could well be an American rom-com were it not quite so, well, promiscuous. In that French way. Indeed, an American remake might be interesting for just that reason.
Now playing in theaters.
Laure Calamy as Antoinette
Benjamin Lavernhe as Vladimir
Olivia Côte as La femme de Vladimir
Denis Mpunga as Idriss
Marie Rivière as Claire
Jean Pierre Martins as Shériff
Louise Vidal as Alice Loubier
Monsieur Fraize as Michel