'Cavale': Film Review

Subliminal Films
An empathetic debut whose energy level doesn't quite match its action.
11/29/2019

Three teenage girls flee a psychiatric hospital in Virginie Gourmel's road movie.

An on-the-lam drama whose three young protagonists were recently wards of a home for troubled teenagers, Virginie Gourmel's Cavale (French for "on the run") centers on the one child who has something to run toward. Lisa Viance plays Kathy, the most recently hospitalized, who hopes to make her way to Luxembourg and the father who abandoned her. Along the way she'll demonstrate how justified her institutionalization was, but Gourmel's film never stops identifying with the teen; that unshowy compassion will win some viewers over to a debut feature whose pulse rate never rises to the level its plot would seem to demand.

Kathy enters the film under duress, trying to fight off the nurses who transport her in an ambulance to an unnamed facility. Her wrists are bandaged from a previous suicide attempt, and in what we presume was the recent past, her mother has died. At every point, she refuses to cooperate with the patient nurses and doctors around her; she's barely more friendly with new roommates Nabila (Yamina Zaghouani) and Carole (Noa Pellizari).

Still, those two girls don't hesitate to follow Kathy when she sees an opportunity to flee the hospital. They find a car Kathy can get started, and head toward Luxembourg, where she hopes to convince the father she's never met to help. But first, Nabila insists on a stop at the mall.

Gourmel takes a joyless view of Nab and Carole's misbehavior there, as the pair (high on pills they've swiped from their doctors) risk getting the gang arrested before their getaway has really begun. Loquacious, tactless Nab is not funny enough to make one forgive her being the source of nearly everything bad that happens as this road trip progresses — from the car crash that strands the girls to the liaison that leaves Carole (an obese virgin who carries a stuffed panda and seems less intellectually developed than her years) with a broken heart.

Kathy is mostly unfazed by the distractions, convincing Nab to keep moving forward by promising that her father, a doctor, can help with whatever medication she needs. In the meantime, weed won't be hard to find, though no stoner humor follows.

When the film arrives at Kathy's father's house long before its 90-minute mark, viewers will know a curve ball is coming. Cavale's fugitives suddenly have crimes more serious than auto theft to run from, and Kathy winds up responsible for a 5-year-old boy named Noah (Allesandro Mancuso). But while Noah's plainspoken confusion about what's happening brings a welcome element to the film, there's little accompanying increase in tension. Viance's performance is wholly credible within the narrow emotional range the script affords her — though she rejects the pills Nabila enjoys, she might as well be on some affect-dampening pharmaceutical — but viewers need to project some of their own worry onto her to be fully invested.

If some of its perils are contrived, Micha Wald's screenplay takes a more natural approach to the story's resolution, pulling back from the fate on-the-lam films often have in store. Both writer and director want to believe Kathy can make it through this adolescent nightmare and begin again, whatever her parental situation may be.

 

Production companies: Artemis Productions, Point Prod
Distributor: Subliminal Films
Cast: Lisa Viance, Yamina Zaghouani, Noa Pellizari, Allesandro Mancuso, Pierre Nisse
Director: Virginie Gourmel
Screenwriter: Micha Wald
Producers: Jean Marc Frohle, Patrick Quinet
Director of photography: Juliette Van Dormael
Production designer: Laurie Colson
Costume designer: Claire Dubin
Editor: Demien Keyeux

In French
86 minutes