Los Angeles Times

A charming walk on the wild side

Laure Calamy hits the trails in self-love comedy ‘My Donkey, My Lover & I.’

- By Katie Walsh Katie Walsh is a Tribune News Service film critic.

Laure Calamy shines at the center of Caroline Vignal’s charming French comedy “My Donkey, My Lover & I,” in a performanc­e that earned her a César Award for best actress in 2021. The original French title of the film is “Antoinette dans les Cévennes,” or “Antoinette in the Cévennes,” a reference to the film’s inspiratio­n, the 1879 book by Robert Louis Stevenson, “Travels With a Donkey in the Cévennes.”

In 1878, seeking distance from an affair with a married American woman, Stevenson set out on a 12-day hiking trip in south-central France with a donkey named Modestine to carry his belongings. His published travelogue is one of the first works to feature hiking and camping as a recreation­al activity, and his journey has since inspired many copycats to take up the Stevenson trail and retrace his steps as our heroine Antoinette (Calamy) does.

However, it’s not distance from a lover, but proximity, that Antoinette seeks when she books a lastminute six-day hike with a donkey on the Stevenson trail. A fifth-grade teacher, she’s been having an affair with Vladimir (Benjamin Lavernhe), the father of one of her students. When she finds out their lovers’ retreat has been jettisoned so that Vladimir can hike in the Cévennes with his wife and daughter, Antoinette impulsivel­y follows suit with vague intentions of spontaneou­sly running into him.

Antoinette is woefully underprepa­red for this journey, both physically and emotionall­y, and initially, she struggles to make headway with her trail companion, Patrick the donkey. But it’s her candor about the affair over a group dinner with other fellow hikers that makes her somewhat of an unexpected trail sensation.

Despite the drama, she starts to find a sense of peace and accomplish­ment in her journey, and in Stevenson’s, resonating with his words, “the best that we can find in our travels is an honest friend.” Antoinette’s friend is, of course, Patrick, a very discerning donkey who becomes her confidant and protector along the way.

“My Donkey, My Lover & I” is a bit like a French version of Reese Witherspoo­n’s “Wild,” just far more chic and fashionabl­e, and with a lot more wine and sex. This kind of trip is the perfect setup for a comedy such as this, allowing Calamy to shine in her physical performanc­e. Though she’s often acting opposite only a donkey, there’s plenty of opportunit­y for fun supporting characters as she makes stops at boarding houses every night.

One could imagine that an American remake would be tempting, but the story is so rooted in French culture, from the specific details of the Stevenson trail to the rather laissez-faire approach to extramarit­al affairs, that much of its charm would be lost in translatio­n.

Shooting on location in the Cévennes, Vignal and cinematogr­apher Simon Beaufils capture the region’s stunning natural beauty and use careful compositio­n to craft the absurdist humor, situating Antoinette and Patrick within the vast landscape.

Vignal uses visual gags and editing to create much of the film’s comedy, but none of it would work without the effervesce­nt Calamy, whose presence easily commands the screen, from the silly classroom mishap that starts the film to the eye-opening and life-altering journey on which she embarks.

Calamy delivers a beautifull­y open performanc­e at the center of an utterly winning comedy about the most important journey a person can take: toward finding themselves. Stevenson got that right back in 1878, and “My Donkey, My Lover & I” is a delightful tribute to that work and a profound story of self-love in its own right.

 ?? Greenwich Entertainm­ent ?? LAURE CALAMY as Antoinette, with donkey Patrick, in Caroline Vignal’s “My Donkey, My Lover & I.”
Greenwich Entertainm­ent LAURE CALAMY as Antoinette, with donkey Patrick, in Caroline Vignal’s “My Donkey, My Lover & I.”

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