ROMANTIC COMEDY: 1hr 37min (French with subtitles)
STARRING: Laure Calamy, Benjamin Lavernhe, Olivia Côte
Donkey work: Calamy and Patrick
Primary-school teacher Antoinette Lapouge (Calamy) is many things. She’s pretty, vivacious, romantic, impetuous and an over-sharer with inappropriate taste in children’s school-concert songs. What she is not is thinking straight: her lover, Vladimir (Lavernhe), who is hard to read and even harder to like, is also the married father of one of her students (Louise Vidal as Alice). And when Vladimir sets off with his wife, Eléonore (Côte), and Alice for a week-long hike in the Cévennes mountains of southern France that will retrace Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1878 journey (instead of setting off with Antoinette for a secret getaway), she thinks nothing of going after him in shorts and heels.
This is the patron saint of foolhardy moves. The Cévennes are vast, Vladimir and his family are nowhere in evidence, Antoinette has never hiked a day in her life and Patrick, the donkey assigned to her in the Stevenson tradition — and who almost puts his dishy leading lady in the shade — has a profound aversion to movement.
Surely only the laissez-faire French would have both the insouciance to tell such a politically iffy tale in these sensitive times and the silken flair to finesse such an irresistibly flawed femme. Courtesy of Calamy (TV’s Call My Agent!), the imprudent Antoinette is impossible to dislike, even with her dodgy moral compass in full, erratic swing. But nor does she escape scot-free when writer-director Caroline Vignal’s breezy, scenic tone (a spin on Stevenson’s 1879 book Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes) briefly downshifts to something more punishing. There’s a price of realisation to be paid for Antoinette’s transgressions, but if her voyage of discovery has one other truth to teach, it’s that love of all stripes is full of surprises. (Also, donkeys are awesome.)