Rendezvous with French cinema: My Donkey, My Lover, and I

I’m not really sure why I chose to watch Caroline Vignal’s Anne dans les Cévennes, which received the pretty atrocious title of My Donkey, My Lover, and I for English-speaking audiences. As I mentioned in my writing about Little Girl, Unifrance and FSLC have been delivering some of the most unremarkable French movies I’ve seen in a while. It is truly rare when one of them sticks after making its debut in RWFC. Can anyone remember any movie that really stuck with them after the film festival? I’ve been going for almost 10 years and I can barely count to five without stretching it. François Ozon’s In the House comes to mind. While it delves into the many trappings of French cinema — a casual attitude towards sex and seduction comes to mind — this was a truly spellbinding mystery. Of course, when you see who penned it, you find that it was Juan Mayorga, and Spain is well-known for its twisty tales.

But I digress and realize I have to go back to the movie in question. Anne and les Cevennes is, no shock here, a very French sex comedy. It centers on Antoinette (Laure Calamy, seen earlier this year in the movie Sibyl), a teacher carrying on with Vladimir (Benjamin Lavernhe). Vladimir is married, and she’s okay with it. Once she finds out that he’s not going to spend the weekend with her but with his wife and family at the Cevennes National Park, she impulsively decides that she’s going to be a part of it, too. Does she think this through? Of course not, or this wouldn’t be a comedy, would it?

She takes off after Vladimir, caution to the wind, and winds up shacking in a bed and breakfast and having to drag a donkey through the park. It is to note that she doesn’t get just a donkey but one that is described as a bitch to handle. Undeterred, she soldiers forward, hoping to catch a glimpse and perhaps steal a kiss from Vladimir. Easier said than done. Vignal uses Calamy’s comic talents to great advantage as she tries to keep up with her tour group (and Vladimir, who is still nowhere to be seen). From here on, Calamy’s Antoinette becomes more and more sympathetic if and only because we realize before she does the futility of what she’s getting into because she’s simply too clueless to realize it. It will take finally confronting not only Vladimir but the entire family for her to realize perhaps this isn’t what she wanted.

I’m actually going to say that while Antoinette has a few moments when she could find love, her sole companion, the mute donkey in question, slowly becomes her main focus. It’s quite funny, and charming, to see her slowly warming up to the animal who also seems to have a mind of its own. Her relationship, dysfunctional as it is, manages to slap Anne awake into finding a new reality for herself rather than pining away for an unattainable man. It’s quite a surprise, to see that all the time I was looking for one aspect in this unassuming sleeper comedy and found another, stronger aspect.

And with that, I have to say, this is a refreshing little comedy with some rather weird undertones — technically, Antoinette is stalking a family, which is bizarre, to say the least. Even so, the movie is screwball in tone and always keeps the viewer engaged in Antoinette’s mindset and emotions without delving too much into the dark. I don’t think there will be an audience for My Donkey, My Lover, and I, but there is always the chance it will get screened on virtual platforms sometime later this year or in early 2022.

Grade: B

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