My Donkey, My Lover & I

A path of healing for lovestruck hearts

1.4 My Donkey
(Photos: IMDB)
“Oh! Journeys, which ripen our hearts and open us to happiness,” wrote Raymond Lévesque in Les Voyages, a magnificent song immortalized by French singer Barbara.اضافة اعلان

This is the experience that awaits heroine Antoinette in the bittersweet romantic comedy My Donkey, My Lover & I by Caroline Vignal, which is being screened today at the 34th edition of the European film festival at Haya Cultural Center in Amman. Through the course of the film, the woman will come a long way — both literally and figuratively — during an unplanned adventure across the mountains.

This unpretentious film was a great success in France last fall, earning its star Laure Calamy a César for best actress — a well-deserved award. (Calamy first made a name for herself playing Noémie, a bubbly secretary, in the series Ten Percent, “Dix Pour Cent” in French.)

An unlikely romance
Antoinette is a single teacher who has a clandestine relationship with the father of one of her students. The film begins when she and her primary class perform the song Véronique Sanson: In love! for the students’ parents. The tone is set: Antoinette is a free woman, more attentive to the palpitations of her heart than to the morals of others.

For months, Antoinette has been waiting for summer and the promise of a romantic week away with her lover, Vladimir. So when he cancels their holiday to trek through the Cévennes with his wife and daughter, Antoinette does not hesitate; she impulsively heads south to follow in his footsteps. Little does she know as she sets out on her journey that her appearance will change along the way, and she will become attached to a most unlikely companion: the donkey carrying her belongings.

Antoinette’s only companion on this singular trip is Patrick, a recalcitrant donkey, so do not expect to hear much dialogue in Vignal’s latest feature film. Nevertheless, you will not be bored. Most of the speech is based on monologues admirably well interpreted by the main actress (Ten Percent, 2015-2020; Only Animals, 2019) as she traverses the picturesque French mountain range. 

My Donkey, My Lover & I could be described as a story of friendship or even love, tinged with romance. Friends support each other, protect each other, and do everything to carry each other as far as possible. As abstract as it may seem, this is the case between Antoinette and her donkey, Patrick. Even if the insinuations lack subtlety in the staging, it is pleasant to see a romantic comedy reinvented.

The film takes on the codes of this cinematic genre: the two protagonists start out distant, and as things progress, they grow closer and realize that each contributes to the other’s personality and life. Sometimes vaudeville, sometimes romantic film, the balance is very intricately manufactured to allow for a pleasant and fluid experience.

The most beautiful landscape
Vignal’s second film, 20 years in the wake of her first (The Other Girls, 2000), My Donkey, My Lover & I is inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson’s diary, Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes. The famous Scottish author and adventurer had once followed this same route to the south, also in search of a remedy for heartache. The idea that “we are all travelers in this world in search of happiness” pervades the atmosphere.

At times, the film is reminiscent of Éric Rohmer’s works from the “comedies and proverbs” period. We also see one of his favorite actresses, Marie Rivière, at the start of the film. Light years away from Le Rayon Vert (1986), the actress here plays a walker who questions Antoinette about her trip at a table with other travelers during a stopover.

As the camera reveals the stunning mountainous landscapes of the Midi region, the most beautiful landscape that Vignal presents is invisible to the eye: it is that of Antoinette’s soul.

This generous and naive woman represents a marvelous character for an actress as gifted as Calamy, who carries the film squarely on her shoulders. Antoinette manages to make us laugh and cry, sometimes in the same scene, like when she soliloquizes with her donkey on solitary paths, entrusting him with all her amorous torments.

In the land of Truffaut, where some men easily pass from wife to mistress, this film has the merit of portraying the perspective of the abandoned: the one constantly hoping and waiting. Like a character in a Flaubert novel, Antoinette overflows with joy to mask a deep melancholy — an invisible wound.

If the end of the film is disappointing and a little abrupt, the fate of its whimsical heroine will accompany us for a long time. Beyond symbols and metaphors, the sublime cinematography truly offers a breath of fresh mountain air.

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