Mild horse – Jappeloup review


By Simon Miraudo
December 2, 2013

Not every athlete’s triumph needs its own cinematic adaptation. Not even the animal ones. A series of very ordinary events unfurl in Christian Duguay‘s Jappeloup, based on the true story of the horse of the same name, who was small or something. Despite his diminutive stature and a poor showing at the 1984 Summer Olympics, he would return to the Seoul games four years later with his eye on the prize. The film relays this journey matter-of-factly, unable to muster much excitement, or even make a good case for the tale’s significance. Perhaps the makers thought horses were innately fascinating, and we’d just feel fortunate to spend 130 minutes in the presence of this one. Never before have I felt so misunderstood by a movie. Jappeloup doesn’t know me at all!

Guillaume Canet stars as rider Pierre, a former lawyer who returns to his childhood passion of show-jumping at his father’s insistence. Canet is a canny filmmaker in his own right, having previously written and directed the electrifying – if overly expository – Tell No One. He’s responsible for this picture’s script too, and, well, to describe it as exhilarating as a robust round of dressage would, frankly, be an overstatement. Jappeloup is mostly uninterested in the horse that its titled after, instead following Pierre as he meets and marries fellow rider Nadia (Marina Hands), welcomes a baby into the world, and wrestles with his chosen vocation. Not even these personal, existential trials are depicted as being particularly significant, or even emotion-inspiring, for Pierre. It’s like the movie doesn’t even realise its French.


Why did this horse become a national hero? His Wikipedia page can’t offer a decent explanation (though it does describe him as “an unruly character and whimsical,” not that there’s much evidence of that on screen). Sportsanimal Twiggy the Water-Skiing Squirrel must have a better agent, because his Wikipedia page details his humble beginnings as an orphan following a hurricane, to his eventual internet superstardom. Now there’s a flick that needs to be made.

Further research reveals that Jappeloup’s death raised eyebrows in his native France, with some fingers accusatorily pointed at Pierre. (The claim was made by a commissioner of the French Equestrian Federation; Pierre sued for libel and won.) Now that’s a crinkle to an otherwise bland story. It goes unaddressed in Duguay’s serviceably directed biopic (which is only adventurous in its soundtrack selections: American pop hits scoring training montages? Sacré bleu!) . Durand is, these days, taking the producers of the feature to court for misuse of the ‘Jappeloup’ brand. Seems not even he is happy with it, despite it hardly painting anyone in a bad (or interesting) light. Ah well. Horses for courses.


Check out Simon Miraudo’s other reviews.

Jappeloup plays the Perth International Film Festival from November 26 to December 8, 2013.

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