Directed by Christian Dugary
Starring Guillame Canet, Marina Hands, Daniel Auteuil.
Jappeloup tells the tale of French equestrian champion Pierre Durand (Guillame Canet) and his horse Jappeloup, as they rise to become a championship horse-and-rider team. Jappeloup, despite his small frame and temperamental attitude, quickly demonstrates a natural aptitude of championship proportions. Pierre must however overcome personal turmoil, a complicated relationship with his father (Daniel Auteuil), crippling self doubt and team politics to prove himself worthy of such an animal and his place on the French Olympics team for Seoul.
Although a formulaic sports movie, Christian Dugary does a marvellous job of bringing this to the big screen. Set firmly in the ‘80s, there is a tongue in cheek choice in the selection of fashion and music, without veering into parody.
Yet it is the physical setting that truly dominates here. Spectacularly shot, clearly demonstrating the beauty of the French countryside, Dugrary manages to continue that sense of allure with the stadium shots of both the LA and Seoul Olympics, as well as various championships. At all times the camera competently conveys an equal sense of beauty and grandeur to the scenery. It’s of note that a movie such as this lives and dies upon its sporting sequences, and this is where Jappeloup shines.
Both Canet and Dugrary were involved in equestrian sports at a young age to a championship level, hence they are quite familiar with the handling of horses – this love of the animal is clearly demonstrated here. They are able to clearly portray a sport to an audience that is as complicated as Quiditch, and possibly less commonly understood. The Byzantine eccentricities of the rules don’t matter as you are swept up in the moment and share the excitement. Canet, as a highly skilled rider, is able to perform much of the jumping himself, allowing the camera to revel on shots of the actor and horse performing together. Dugrary is skilled enough to blend real performances with CG work, to make the two indistinguishable from each other. Sure, slow motion shots are overused, but that is forgivable when the results are as breathtaking as this.
Unfortunately, the human aspect of this movie is less compelling. Canet’s script of personal doubt and parental angst is something we have often seen in this genre. Despite Auteuil’s charismatic performance as the father, the movie does start to drag in these sequences as the same themes are repeated ad nauseam. Perhaps more compelling, but less explored, are the team politics at the time, especially the antagonism between Durrand and his coach. These are never given enough depth to really get to the heart of the matter and it seems like an undeveloped opportunity for dramatic tension.
However these niggling doubts are swept away in the excitement of the sport. Even if you are not an equestrian enthusiast, the final jumps will have you on the edge of your seat.
Jappeloup screens as part of the Lotterywest Festival Films season at Joondalup Pines from November 26-December 1, then at UWA’s Somerville Auditorium from December 2-8. For more details, head to here.