The Path of Excellence Review
The Path of Excellence / La voie royale (2023) Film Review from the 76th Annual Locarno Film Festival, a movie directed by Frédéric Mermoud, written by Anton Likiernik, Salvatore Lista and Frédéric Mermoud and starring Suzanne Jouannet, Marie Colomb, Maud Wyler, Lorenzo Lefebvre, Cyril Metzger, Marilyne Canto, Alexandre Desrousseaux and Antoine Chappey.
Suzanne Jouannet delivers a heartfelt, passionate performance in director Frédéric Mermoud’s inspiring and realistic French drama, The Path of Excellence. Mostly set at an elite boarding school, Mermoud’s film convinces us that the main character of the movie, Sophie Vasseur (Jouannet) deserves to attend a prestigious university to fulfill a career in engineering. Sophie sets her eyes on Polytechnique which is going to challenge her immensely. Sophie works on her family farm when we meet her but, thanks to financial assistance, she is able to make herself a contender in a very competitive world where a fiercely determined student body will make Sophie’s goals become more complex in nature than they are already are.
Sophie has a true passion for physics and mathematics. She befriends a girl named Diane Le Goff (a fine Marie Colomb). Diane has a knack for theater arts and in one of the best scenes in the movie, Diane brings to life her unique talents as she practices her dialogue in front of Sophie who becomes fully immersed in the work Diane is doing. Maud Wyler (always reliable) portrays Sophie’s physics teacher, Claire Fresnel and Wyler is another one of the standouts in a fine supporting cast of characters. Claire challenges Sophie. Claire wants Sophie to excel and improve in areas where she seems to be struggling. Claire also has realistic expectations of what is expected of Sophie in order to achieve her desires.
There is, of course, a love interest for Sophie. This character is named Hadrien Loiseau (a well-cast Lorenzo Lefebvre). Sophie enlists Hadrien’s help after she becomes vulnerable and sort of messes up. The on-screen chemistry between Jouannet and Lefebvre is very effective. The pairing makes for some intriguing scenes as these two characters connect in a way that will help them cope with their school’s grand expectations.
Another notable performance is that of Cyril Metzger as Laurent, Sophie’s brother. In one scene, Laurent ends up in jail. Sophie shows up to help him when she is supposed to be studying. There is a bond between these two characters but the movie doesn’t sugarcoat it. Instead, the movie plays out realistically in terms of the presentation of both Sophie and Laurent’s relationship and Sophie and her mom (Marilyne Canto)’s relationship. Rounding out the outstanding supporting cast is Alexandre Desrousseaux as Jules, a fellow student who can be both encouraging and a jerk depending on the particular situation.
Sophie’s family’s personal struggle is very believable. As Sophie works on the farm dealing with pigs, it’s clear she has talent to be doing something completely different (and much more rewarding). But, her family is suffering which creates conflict within the story line. All of this material is totally authentic and well presented.
One of the most tense moments in the film comes when Sophie is taking her final exam which could make or break her future. Sophie is going to have to confront the reality of not being able to fully express her knowledge of the material on the test. Soon, her teacher becomes involved in trying to help Sophie with her ability to succeed at what Sophie so desperately wants to do with her life.
A great scene in the movie comes towards the end when an oral interview Sophie is on has Sophie lay out her reasons for wanting to attend Polytechnique. This is one of the most important scenes in the movie as Sophie does her professional presentation before explaining her long-term goals. It is to Jouannet’s credit that she’s completely phenomenal here and we feel all the character’s frustrations and determinations in these moments.
The Path of Excellence is a terrific movie. The movie conveys Sophie’s extracurricular activities in such a way that we’re with this character every step of the way. As Sophie tries to fit in, situations arise which complicate her goals and Jouannet is absolutely amazing. This is a star-making role, for sure. Mermoud’s direction allows us to easily relate to Sophie’s predicament and to root for her from beginning to end. Like America’s Good Will Hunting from 26 years back, you don’t need to have any sort of love for math or physics to enjoy The Path of Excellence. It’s a thought-provoking dramatic movie with an edge that will make you sympathize for the struggle to be great and succeed against all odds. It’s the type of movie that film festivals help audiences discover and is an absolute triumph.
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