I recently went to see the film Jappeloup, currently showing in Australia as part of the 2014 French Film Festival. According to the promotional notes, the film is:
“…the inspirational true story of one man and his horse, who together achieved one of France’s greatest Olympic victories. Guillaume Canet gives a brilliant performance as Pierre Durand, a man who decides to leave a legal career to follow his equestrian dream. He sees something special in a small and stubborn colt called Jappeloup and decides to reach for gold in the competitive world of show jumping. Supported by his father (audience favourite Daniel Auteuil) and fellow rider Nadia (the charming Marina Hands), Pierre falters as he comes tantalisingly close to ultimate success. Can he defy the odds to take his beloved horse to success in the Seoul games of 1988?”
So, it’s clearly being pitched as 1) a biopic, and 2) structured upon a relationship between a man and his “beloved” horse. But in fact, if you watch the movie you’ll see that, while it’s an enjoyable enough film, with amazing showjumping sequences, the man-horse relationship remains secondary throughout, and is dealt with in a single conversation and a short montage.
Something the promo fails to mention is that the horse is deemed better than his rider, an opinion stated repeatedly throughout the film, including by the protagonist. The movie does nothing to try and resolve this issue, which is one of it’s strengths in my opinion. If you watch footage of the real Pierre Durand and Jappeloup at the Seoul Olympics, you’ll see that it does look to be the truth. (Watch the footage here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bJ5G49bYMT0 – seeing this tiny horse leaping over jumps taller than he is is simply mesmerising.)
While trawling the internet for information on exactly how they filmed the amazing jump sequences, I came across the Press Pack for the film, which made quite enlightening reading. For a start, it was acknowledged that while the film was based on Durand’s life, it also incorporated elements of Guillaume Canet’s (the writer and star of the film) biography too. And then I found this quote, by the producer:
“Guillaume and Christian [Duguay, the film’s director] have a genuine rapport with the horse, and not an infantile relationship with it. These men, who’ve done a lot of competitions, don’t see the animal as a cuddly toy. At one time, horsemen used to call themselves “pilots”. That means they used to consider their mount as a machine. Pierre Durand was among the first to go from being a pilot to a centaur.”
This statement more accurately sums up the depiction of Durand’s relationship with Jappeloup than any of the promotional twaddle. The aim of the marketing synopsis is, of course, to sell the film to viewers, however they are more likely to come away from it feeling disappointed if their expectations were focused on the human-animal relationship dimension.
The distinction made here between a ‘genuine rapport’ and an ‘infantile relationship’ with a horse is interesting, too, though at this point I’m not yet sure what I think of that statement.
If anyone else has seen this movie and has thoughts on it, I’d love to hear them.