Monday, February 13, 2017

Boston Sci-Fi ’17: The Open

This would be a rare case of a sports film without an equipment sponsorship. Perhaps Wilson did not want viewers to think their strings would not last through the apocalypse. At least the frames endure in Marc Lahore’s The Open (trailer here), which screens during the 2017 Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival.

Stephanie Tavernier was poised to dominate the French Open until nuclear Armageddon rudely sidetracked the world. However, she will survive and so will her dream, nursed by her denial-facilitating coach Andre. Taking refuge on the Scottish Hebrides, they continue to train as if the Open is still on. Of course, it will take two to play for the title, so Andre manages to abduct Ralph, a reluctant militia fighter, who was previously a low-ranked professional (#942) before doomsday. They still lack balls and strings for their rackets, but they Andre insists they go through the motions anyway.

Initially, Ralph finds the absurdity of it all too much to handle, but he eventually agrees training with Tavernier under Andre’s protection is probably preferable to waging a pointless urban war. Soon, he too acclimates to their mental game, but there is still a war going on out there and it makes Ralph particularly jumpy when it distantly intrudes on their strange oasis of tennis.

The Open is one of the oddest post-apocalyptic films ever made as well as the unlikeliest sports movie, but it respects the conventions of both genres, synthesizing them for its own ends. Obviously, it is considerably surreal, but Lahore largely steers clear of pretentiousness. Essentially, Lahore asks, all things considered, why shouldn’t they play tennis? It seems to be just as productive an option as anything else they might do, under the circumstances.

James Northcote and Maia Lavasseur-Costil are terrific portraying the players’ evolving relationship from ostensive rivals to something more supportive and considerably deeper. Pierre Benoist gives the film further tragic dimension as Andre, the coach who had already sacrificed so much for Tavernier, even before Armageddon.

Lahore (as director and cinematographer) makes the Hebrides look like they were dreamed up by Dalí. He might have trimmed ten or fifteen minutes while wearing his co-editor hat (with Benjamin Minet), but the film still avoids the listlessness you would expect from an absurdist allegory. Recommended for fans of apocalyptic cinema, The Open screens this Wednesday (2/15) as part of the Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival.