Jappeloup

Jappeloup

****

Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

The riding, show jumping, and falling off horses feels true in Christian Duguay's stirring equestrian thriller Jappeloup, due to its star Guillaume Canet, who wrote the script, and whose love of the sport, and especially the animals, manifests itself in every scene. Brought up in a family of horse breeders, Canet rode for the junior French National Equestrian team and is perfectly cast as Olympic Champion Pierre Durand. Duguay himself, is a former member of the Canadian equestrian team.

The title of the movie doesn't refer to a French version of the mythical North American Jackalope, a large hare with antlers, but is the name of Durand's small black horse, that astonished spectators worldwide with his jumping skills. "The horse has heart and more than that," is the consensus and if you can bear three falls within the first ten minutes, you will agree.

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Intimate scenes of dialogue between Canet's perturbed Durand and his embroiled father Serge, played with full intensity by Daniel Auteuil, have urgency and excellent acting but go on just a touch too long. A beautiful shot at the beach of Durand and his very pregnant wife Nadia in a swimsuit (Marina Hands, impactfully making her character the voice of reason, knows Canet, since both were riding together at age 14) is original and breathtaking to look at. However, the grand emotion music is often misplaced and totally unnecessary, especially when it distracts and guides off the narrative path leading to Olympic gold in Seoul, South Korea in 1988.

Home on the range is idiosyncratic. The Durands are a family who make each other happy by riding in competitions and for whom giving up a career as a lawyer is celebrated and regarded as a gift to dad. Pierre's wife will be the one who tells him that he "never could pick horses - or girls". They marry and she accompanies him and his father to all the international competitions, cheering him on and setting him straight. The mother Arlette (Marie Bunel, so impressive in Chabrol's 2009 swan song Bellamy) holds the fort in images of warm light flooding the old stone house, the stables, the meadows and forests.

A little farm girl named Raphaëlle (Lou de Laâge), was witness to the foal's birth, and follows her darling Jappeloup to Olympic distinction. She is the real caretaker of the tiny champion horse and a template of identification for many equine loving teens - of all ages. She is gutsy and will teach grown men kindness, co-operation, and perseverance.

The script follows the roller coaster career of its subjects. Crossed out at the Longchamps cup, Durand develops an anxious relationship with the starters bell. The coach of the French team is trouble, not as a cliche but believably jealous. Furious, his wife talks sense to Pierre, gives him perspective, to get his act together.

The reconstruction of the 1982 National Championship is fantastic to watch, with its graceful horses and the French team riding in their white pants, red jackets, and black velvet caps.

At the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles we hear the comments about the "tiny horse that jumps very high" and worries about how very young both rider and horse are. Donald Sutherland (as John Lester) is in the audience and has a plan.

Even viewers who have never cared much about show jumping, should be drawn in by how the movie deals with decision making, risk taking, self doubt, and family obligations. When a competition is about "best rider and not best pair" and Jappeloup momentarily gets a new rider, a Canadian woman, I was surprised to notice how emotionally torn it made me feel.

The most terrifying scene in a movie this year so far, happens at night, in the rain at a gas station next to a busy French highway. If you can't root for that horse by the time the film reaches Seoul in 1988, then you should check in with your goodness quotient. There are films where it feels perfectly wonderful to be manipulated. Canet plants a big kiss on his little champion horse, Jappeloup nibbles on some grass, and I am wiping the dust off my riding boots.

Reviewed on: 25 Feb 2013
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The story of a man's faith in a horse that could jump.


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