With MY LOVER, THE DONKEY & I A film is released in cinemas that could best be described as a French traveling dramedy. We reveal in our review whether this sparked the desire to travel and how it has generally become.
OT: Antoinette in the Cévennes (FR/BEL 2020)
One more performance with her class and then the holidays are finally upon us – and teacher Antoinette (Laure Calamy) is looking forward to them more than ever. After all, she and her secret lover Vladimir (Benjamin Lavernhe), the attractive father of one of her students, have decided to spend the holidays together while his wife is traveling. But when Vladimir’s wife decides at short notice to go on a family vacation and go hiking for a week, her lover has to abruptly reprimand Antoinette. But Antoinette can’t just be transferred like that: she also decides to travel to the Cévennes National Park. She books an accompanying donkey for her trekking tour – because she can be persuaded that this is appropriate for the traditional hiking route there. In reality, hardly anyone does that. Not surprisingly: the gray animals can be incredibly stubborn. So does Antoinette’s companion Patrick. However, Patrick is also a very patient listener. When Antoinette finally meets Vladimir and his family, the love cards are radically reshuffled. Patrick naturally endures all of this with stoic calm…
An impressive 20 years after her feature film directorial debut, the coming-of-age film “Les autres filles”, Caroline Vignal returns to the director’s chair. The filmmaker simply had no desire to direct again at first and preferred to concentrate on her career as an author. In 2010, however, she went hiking with her daughter and a donkey – an experience they enjoyed so much that in 2011 they hiked through the Cévennes Nature Park again with the ungulate. At that time, she was accompanied by a donkey named Patrick, which, according to Vignal, was the stumbling block to the development of “My Lover, the Donkey & I”. Nine years and further hikes, including on the Robert Louis Stevenson Trail, which was followed in the film and is legendary in France, the project is finally finished. After a presence at the (unusual due to Corona) Cannes Film Festival, “My Lover, the Donkey & I” reaches USA cinemas – five years after the mini-boom of traveling films, in 2015, when “I’m gone,” “The Big One Trip – Wild” and “Picnic with Bears” together attracted more than 2.48 million people to the cinemas.
Antoinette (Laure Calamy) arguing with her lover Vladimir (Benjamin Lavernhe)
It is doubtful that “My Lover, the Donkey & I” will trigger a second traveling film hype among the local audience, after all, Vignal’s return to the director’s chair is neither based on a bestseller nor does it star famous names in this country – and the Robert Louis The Stevenson Trail is not nearly as well-known in United Kingdom as the Camino de Santiago. His story is interesting: the famous writer Robert Louis Stevenson, who wrote, among other things, “Treasure Island” and “The Curious Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, fell in love with a married woman in France and tried to overcome the depression caused by this unfortunate romance. Therefore, on September 22, 1878, he set off for the Cévennes and bought a small donkey named Modestine in Monastier-sur-Gazeille. He wrote down his report on the twelve-day trip to Saint-Jean-du-Gard and used the proceeds from the work to pay for the ticket his lover needed to travel to his homeland of California. One divorce and one new marriage later, they became a happy married couple.
“Although “My Lover, the Donkey & I” begins cleverly and exaggeratedly, the auteur filmmaker gradually approaches the more complex core of her characters.”
Allusions to this anecdote run through “My Lover, the Donkey & I” and are all written in a very entertaining way by Vignal, who also lets her cast recite this and similar stories very lightly, without becoming completely shallow or turning the characters into copycats to let go to waste. Although “My Lover, the Donkey & I” begins cleverly and exaggeratedly, the auteur filmmaker gradually approaches the more complex core of her characters. Through the hardships of her journey, her soliloquies/dialogues with the donkey Patrick and the sometimes teasing, sometimes derogatory, sometimes gossipy, sometimes warm encounters with other hikers and the local tourism industry, Antoinette is confronted with what she is actually doing and what she is craving.
Antoinette with her donkey Patrick.
Vladimir and his wife Eléonore also gain in facets, so that the “My Lover, the Donkey & I” love triangle gains dramaturgical fodder: Vignal does not drill deep enough to turn this traveling dramedy into a character-driven piece about love, longing and self-knowledge but she designs the characters nuanced enough to keep the story moving and to deviate from the supposedly predictable course of the story through some newly discovered facets of a character. Pointed comedy interludes, when Patrick either becomes extra stubborn or reacts in an almost humanly cheeky manner, loosen up Antoinette’s self-searching, solidly played by Laure Calamy, and make you want to go on tour with a donkey yourself. However, this film does not achieve Vignal’s stated goal of writing a cinematic love letter to the landscape through which the Robert-Louis-Stevenson path leads with “My Lover, the Donkey & I”: although Vignal does not make it look unsightly, it is “My Lover, the Donkey & I” is filmed and staged in such an uninspired way that the landscape through which the characters wander doesn’t really come into its own, let alone evoke a desire to travel.
“Pointed comedy interludes, when Patrick either becomes extra stubborn or reacts in an almost humanly cheeky manner, loosen up Antoinette’s self-searching, solidly played by Laure Calamy, and make you want to go on tour with a donkey yourself.”
Benjamin Lavernhe, on the other hand, stands out (“Pear cake with lavender”), who here (as in “Life is a Celebration”) looks because of his beard as if he were the long-lost French twin of Jan Böhmermann. And how Lavernhe, in his few scenes, lets Vladimir go from an understandable object of desire to an overwhelmed husband to a donkey, back to an object of desire and then an ass again, is wonderful.
Conclusion: Pursue after your lover and then ultimately have self-discovery conversations with a donkey? Why not? “My Lover, the Donkey & I” is a light, but not dull, French drama that unfortunately lacks that certain something, but still has its charms.
“My Lover, the Donkey & Me” can be seen in USA cinemas from October 22, 2020.