The summer has just begun in Paris. Antoinette Lapouge, an elementary school teacher played brilliantly by Laure Calamy (Noémie in Call My Agent!), is desperately in love with Vladimir (Benjamin Lavernhe from the Comédie-Française), the married father of one of her students. They plan to spend a week together while his wife (Olivia Côte) is away, but she cancels her trip to the Ile de Ré at the last minute to take her family hiking with a donkey in the middle of France.
No matter! Antoinette packs her bags and boards a bus to Chasseradès in the heart of the Lozère département, looking for her lover. Armed with a pink suitcase and wedge sandals, the Parisienne sticks out among the other hikers wearing rain ponchos and sturdy boots. The first encounter with her very own donkey is just as hilarious. This is how director Caroline Vignal’s comedy begins, following a rather hopeless fortysomething with a taste for terrible love interests, who finally finds herself when she unwittingly stumbles in the footsteps of Robert Louis Stevenson.
In 1878, the Scottish author had yet to write Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. He was 27 and living a bohemian life in France, where he fell in love with Fanny Osbourne, a married woman from San Francisco ten years his senior, who had come to Barbizon to learn how to paint. The lovers wanted to get married but she first had to get a divorce, and returned to the United States to sign the papers. Having lost contact with her, the distressed Stevenson tried to forget his fiancée by walking across the Cévennes Mountains. This 120-mile trek, which he completed with a donkey, inspired him to write a book and led to the creation of an official hiking trail a century later.
The GR 70, nicknamed the Robert Louis Stevenson Trail, is now one of the most-walked routes in France. Just like the writer before her (who was reunited with his lover and married her in 1880), Antoinette discovers the therapeutic benefits of hiking – described by writer David Le Breton as an “evasion,” “a road less traveled in the breakneck pace of our daily lives.” Attached to a lead rope, Patrick the donkey is initially stubborn but gradually becomes her confidant. She shares stories of her broken heart with him, and he concurs by raising his ears or brays when he disagrees!
Against the backdrop of spectacular landscapes, Antoinette slowly becomes a local hero, a legend walking the peaks and valleys alone, straddling her donkey like an Italian Virgin Mary or Clint Eastwood on the range. A brave, free, independent woman. Herein lies the power of this rite-of-passage movie, which was part of the official selection at the Cannes Film Festival and the Angoulême Francophone Film Festival in 2020. One evening, while overwhelmed by fatigue and distressed that her lover has abandoned her, the owner of an inn reminds her: “What counts isn’t is the destination – it’s the path.”