A Cold Shower: Douches Froides at TIFF

Douches Froides is one of the most clumsily-made films I've ever seen at the Toronto International Film Festival. Usually, when a fest film is bad, it's at least bad in an interesting way; Froides is anything but. It's so unbelievably bland that one becomes mystified upon contemplating why anyone would have made this movie in the first place. It's drab, boring, and ultimately pointless. It's an after-school special with the goofy charm taken out, and moderate nudity put in. No, on second thought, it's not even that good.

The story is such an unabashed cliche that one actually becomes embarassed for the filmmakers while watching it unspool. Mickael (Johan Libereau) is a healthy, upstanding young athlete. He has a girlfriend, Vanessa (Salome Stevenin), whom he loves, although their relationship seems to consist of little more than sneaking into various athletic facilities and having a go at each other. Mickael begins training with the new rich boy in town, Clement (Pierre Perrier), and eventually, Clement gets tossed into Mickael and Vanessa's sex life. Surprise surprise, Mickael can't handle it after the fact, and freaks out at Vanessa for being a slut. End of miserable, misbegotten story.

There are unsettling elements surrounding Mickael's judo training (he is forced to lose 7 kilograms in a matter of weeks, to qualify for his weight class), but these are not dealt with as anything more than mere plot elements, to move the story towards that moment where Mickael's opinion of Vanessa slips from madonna to whore. Otherwise, this film is not about much of anything; it's amazing just how pedestrian the overall storyline really is. The kids go to a party. The judo team capers in the shower. Mickael's parents have a fight. And so on, and so on, and so on.

Admittedly, that one crucial moment in the film - the two minutes where Mickael and Clement are wrestling one another in the abandoned gym, only to have Vanessa pulled into the mix, which ultimately leads to a provocative sequence of faceless bodies tumbling over one another before finally succumbing to fleshy lust - works better than anything on either side of it. It's restrained while still being erotic, and rather surprisingly true to the teenage experience, in ways that the rest of the film can never be. It feels so cataclysmically at odds with the ineptitude surounding it that the love scene may just as well have come out of an entirely different movie. We have seen nothing so far that indicates that first-time director Antony Cordier, who makes such elemental mistakes as eyeline direction errors and failures to maintain continuity of action, has anything like this up his sleeve. One deep breath later, the scene's gone, and we're plunged back into a film so numb that the audience climbs out of the theatre gasping for breath, as though having been smothered. Douches Froides is a cold shower, all right, in all the wrong ways. What a colossal misfire.

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