The Straight Line (La Ligne droite): Film Review

Racing drama straddles off course after an intriguing start.

Veteran French director Regis Wargnier delivers an occasionally compelling, though awfully saccharine, tale of athletic inspiration in the wobbly sports story set in the world of legally blind professional runners.

PARIS — Veteran French director Regis Wargnier (East-West, Indochine) delivers an occasionally compelling, though awfully saccharine, tale of athletic inspiration in the wobbly sports story, The Straight Line (La Ligne droite). Both distributed in France and sold internationally by Gaumont, it should keep a solid pace for its March 9 local opening, but may have a harder time qualifying in international markets.

Set in the world of legally blind professional runners, the film is at its strongest when depicting the fascinating workings of a sport that’s never been dealt with on the big screen. Unfortunately, such details are soon overshadowed by a predictable and not entirely convincing love story between the scenario’s star runner, Yannick (Cyril Descours), and his guide, Leila (Rachida Brakni).

When we’re first introduced to Leila, she’s just been released from prison for a crime that’s (rather implausibly) explained later on. Instead of joining up with friends or family, Leila dons a pair of Adidas and take off on a 400m dash. This isn’t your typical ex-con behavior, and when she next shows up at a sports club and literally bumps into Yannick, it’s evident that Wargnier is less interested in establishing a nuanced narrative than in cutting right to the chase, so to speak.

Leila soon begins training alongside Yannick, who lost his sight during a car accident six months prior. These early scenes, which show how blind runners must learn to keep in step with their guides, do a good job explaining a sport whose skills are as much about physical endurance as they are about the ability to sense your partner’s presence. By including actual blind athletes (Gautier Tresor Makunda, Aladj Ba) in the cast, the training and competition scenes have an intense and realistic edge which the dramatic – bordering on melodramatic – scenes fail to offer.

As Yannick begins to fall for Leila, the latter’s past comes back to bite her, with Yannick’s all-powerful mother (Clementine Celarie) stepping in to keep the would-be lovers apart. Things take a turn for the worse during a few ill-handled confrontational moments, which fail to provide the right momentum for the narrative’s inevitable final sprint.

Given the overstretched nature of her character, Brakni (Chaos, State Affairs) puts plenty of sweat into the role of Leila, and tends to comes out ahead of the pack. Descours (Complices) depicts Yannick as either self-pitying or choleric. It’s a combination that makes him hard to watch, especially when he shouts his lines at the rest of the cast.

Camerawork and lighting veer toward the conventional, with Steadicam operator Mathieu Caudroy doing a fantastic job following the athletes. The race sequences, backed by some very Phillip Glass-style scoring from Patrick Doyle (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire), are well-handled by Wargnier, though he blows it when indulging in unnecessary visual fx during the finale.

Opens: In France March 9
Production companies: Gaumont, France 2 Cinema
Cast: Rachida Brakni, Cyril Descours, Clementine Celarie, Seydina Blade, Thierry Godard, Gregory Gadebois, Gautier Tresor Makunda, Aladj Ba, Romain Goupil
Director, screenwriter: Regis Wargnier
Producer: Jean Cottin
Director of photography: Laurent Dailland
Production designer: Yohann Georges
Music: Patrick Doyle
Costume designer: Pierre-Yves Georges
Editor: Simon Jacquet
Sales Agent: Gaumont
No rating, 101 minutes