Movie Review: Jappeloup (2014)
More than halfway through “Jappeloup,” about a champion French show-jumping horse of the 1980s, Jappeloup’s farmgirl handler, Raphaëlle Dalio (Lou de Laage, looking impossibly pretty, like the kid sister of Adèle Exarchopoulos), takes to task Jappeloup’s owner and rider, Pierre Durand (Guillaume Canet, a cross between Patrick Dempsey and Albert Brooks).
Durand’s been sulking for most of the movie and particularly recently. During the 1984 Olympics, with millions watching, Jappeloup threw him (in slow motion), and, despite pep talks from his father, Serge (Daniel Auteuil), and his wife, Nadia (Marina Hands), in which both urge him not to sell the horse to a rich American (Donald Sutherland), Durand does it anyway, breaking everyone’s heart in the process. But after his father dies and his wife gives birth, and after stewing in his own juices long enough, he comes around. A bad blood test causes the Americans to momentarily step back from the deal, allowing Durand to nix it completely. Then he searches for Raphaëlle. She’s hanging and smoking with friends at a French café, as pretty French farmgirls do. And she lays into him.
“In two years, you never spent two minutes in his stall!” she says. “You were champion of France but you know nothing of horses.” He’s an animal, she says, but you never even thought about him.
Sadly, the movie can be accused of the same. Its title character is secondary at best. It’s called “Jappeloup” but it might as well be called “Pierre Durand.”
Montage is a French word
The movie is based upon a book called “Crin Noir” by Karine Devilder, subtitled (or surtitled) “Pierre Durand et Jappeloup de Luze,” which was adapted by Canet, an actor who not only wrote the international French hits “Tell No One” and “Little White Lies,” but was raised by horse breeders and nearly became a professional horse rider himself.
We begin with Durand as a kid who literally gets back on the horse after a fall; but as a young man he divides his time between being a lawyer and a horse rider, realizes he can’t do both, and gives up the horse riding. Meanwhile, Jappeloup, a small, feisty horse, is being trained at his father’s farm.
A lot of it is just the wait for the inevitable. Durand will come back to horse riding generally, and Jappeloup specifically, otherwise why are we watching this? And he does. But it takes a while. And it’s generally not worth the wait.
“Montage” is a French word but they overdo it here. They keep coming—one after the other. “Everyone’s talking about this horse!” an announcer proclaims at the 1982 French nationals, which caused me to do a double-take. Last we heard, Jappeloup was a screw-up and nobody could ride him. Now he’s a step away from being a national champion? And everyone’s talking about him?
The movie, directed by Christian Duguay, who mostly directs TV movies, keeps doing this. It focuses on Durand’s dithering, then gives us horse-training montages, then glosses over the victories to get to the defeats. It’s reductive like a Hollywood movie but in a peculiarly French way. But it all leads to a Hollywood ending. In the 1988 Olympics, Jappeloup makes that final jump (in slow motion).
Me, I was urging him to throw Durand one more time. For the surprise if nothing else. For the comedy of it all.
Ne le dis a personne
I saw the film with my friend Jim, a horse lover, and he was happy enough afterwards because it was about horses, but even he knew it was a mixed bag. We spend more than two hours watching this movie about Jappeloup but we never spend more than two minutes in his stall. “Jappeloup” was a semi-champion at the French box office but it knows nothing of horses. Or at least it’s not telling.