Friday, October 23, 2020

AFI Fest Spotlight: My Donkey, My Lover and I

I’m delighted to be covering a number of selections from AFI Fest 2020. The festival runs October 15th-22nd, 2020, and films are available to watch online during that time.

My Donkey, My Lover and I
Directed by Caroline Vignal
Festival Information

There are bad ideas that only reveal themselves to be mistakes once they’ve been made and their consequences have become clear, and there are others that should never have been considered in the first place. One reason that the latter do occur and are given the opportunity to play themselves out in a painfully awkward way is that those who do not have anyone else to consult are forced to ratify their own opinions, which might not involve the proper degree of consideration and the recognition that hoping for a positive outcome that is very unlikely to happen won’t make it any more possible.

Antoinette (Laure Calamy) is a fifth-grade teacher in France having an affair with Vladimir (Benjamin Lavernhe), the father of one of her students, Eléonore (Olivia Côte). When she learns that Vladimir is postponing a trip they were supposed to take together to go hiking with Eléonore and his wife, Alice (Louise Vidal), she decides that the reasonable thing to do is to plan a hike of her own, complete with a donkey rental. When she arrives in the Cévennes, she finds herself utterly unprepared for the physical ordeal that lies ahead, as well as lacking a concrete plan for how to insert herself into Vladimir’s family without his wife – or his daughter – realizing that something is going on.

This film’s premise, and its title, are inherently comical, and the execution of this concept could have been less than serious and compelling. Instead, it embraces Antoinette’s nervous energy and uses it to tell a humorous and enjoyable tale of a woman completely blinded by love. Antoinette reveals what she has done to a table full of strangers upon her arrival, inviting curiosity and judgment. She is surprised to learn that no one else has booked a donkey, and only when she becomes frustrated with her slow-moving traveling companion does she begin to acknowledge that everything she is doing may not be in service of her happiness.

Calamy is bursting with so much enthusiasm and laughter that it’s hard not to like her even though her choices are so unfortunate. The glee she transmits is infectious, and Antoinette seems even to impress Alice, the happiest member of that family to encounter her on their trip far from home. This film could have been predictable and derivative, but, thanks to unexpected pivots in the script, instead it’s a joyful and entertaining trip to a place that is filled with beauty and people thinking about other things that get in the way of them noticing.


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