'Kiss and Cry': Film Review | Cannes 2017

Courtesy of Ecce Films
An observant portrait of French youth — on ice.

Documentary directors Lila Pinell and Chloe Mahieu follow a teenage girl enrolled in a professional figure skating program in this Cannes ACID premiere.

The blades are not exactly full of glory in Kiss and Cry, an intriguing look at the life of a young figure skater trying — but clearly not trying hard enough — to become a champion.

Shot and scripted as a fictional film while feeling very much like a documentary, this modest first feature from Lila Pinell and Chloe Mahieu offers up a tender portrait of a tough world, where budding adolescents come clashing up against the strict regimen of professional athletics. Premiering in the Cannes ACID sidebar, the ultra low-budget effort has already been acquired for French distribution and could continue on to other festivals, with a shot at boutique pickups in Europe and elsewhere.

Featuring a cast of real female skaters and their extremely sadistic male trainer, Xavier (Xavier Dias), Kiss and Cry blends nonfiction and traditional storytelling techniques into one organic narrative. One never knows if the filmmakers are simply capturing events or re-creating them, as the movie jumps between scenes of the girls on the ice and others where they just want to have fun — “fun” meaning, in part, smoking, drinking and sending explicit Snapchat photos of their body parts to guys.

The plot follows 15-year-old Sarah (Sarah Bramms), who returns for seasonal training in the eastern city of Colmar after having left the program because of disciplinary issues. Indeed, the talented but extremely testy teen, whose Russian mother (Dinara Droukarova) could be the textbook definition of “skate mom,” has a hard time complying with a military-style schedule that has her waking up at 6 a.m. to start a long day of running, stretching and practicing difficult skating routines at the rink.

Making matters even worse is coach Xavier, who comes across as the figure skating equivalent of Gunnery Sgt. Hartman in Full Metal Jacket, threatening and insulting his trainees — whose ages range from around 6 to 16 — in truly cruel ways. Constantly obsessed with their weight, he calls one of them “a big cow” and reminds another one, who looks like she’s 7, that “pity is for the weak.” When Sarah tries to ignore him at one point, he calls her a “stuck-up bourgeois piece of shit.”

No wonder the girls look a bit unhappy. Luckily, though, they manage to find solace in each other’s company, whether they’re hanging out between practice sessions or, in one extended sequence, sneaking away at night to a party where Sarah runs into her crush, Sam (Samuel Brian). In those moments, it’s like they've been transformed into normal teens again, momentarily forgetting about Xavier and the next competition.

Kiss and Cry is very much about the strain that Sarah and her teammates feel as they try to lead two lives at once, with the naturalistic performances capturing both the tension (at training) and the elation (outside training) that they experience as a close-knit group. It’s a coming-of-age movie set in a strange, rather hostile place, and in the end we’re left with a feeling of admiration, as well as slight pity, for these uniquely talented girls.

While the film is mostly shot in a handheld, realistic manner by lensers Sylvain Verdet and Xavier Liberman, during the closing sequence the directors switch tactics to insert a pair of stylized figure skating pieces — one of Xavier letting himself go as his team dances around him, the other where Sarah finds herself in an on-the-ice remake of John Carpenter’s Christine. It's two opposing versions of a fantasy that the characters are living each day: one dream, one nightmare. 

Production company: Ecce Films
Cast: Sarah Bramms, Xavier Dias, Dinara Droukarova, Carla-Marie Santerre, Aurelie Faula
Directors-screenwriters: Lila Pinell, Chloe Mahieu
Producer: Emmanuel Chaumet
Directors of photography: Sylvain Verdet, Xavier Liberman
Editor: Emma Augier
Music supervisor: Aurore Meyer-Mahieu
Venue: Cannes Film Festival (ACID)
Sales: Ecce Films

In French
76 minutes

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