FINAL SET (Cinquième Set): AN AGING PRO LOOKS FOR REDEMPTION
A French reincarnation of Bjorn Borg wishes to bring his past to life again by qualifying for the French Open. It cannot be underestimated how important that tournament has been to the people Their pride stems from centuries of tradition. Thomas Edison (no relation), the protagonist of Final Set (2021) knows this.
History tells us that Louis XIV popularized tennis at The Royal Tennis Court at Versailles, France. He and his opponents played an older, less vigorous version that would later become transformed on a grass court. That said, one of the Grand Slams, The French Open at Roland-Garros has become synonymous with clay court tournaments. Unlike other surfaces, clay involves a more subtle technique, such as sliding to return a ball, and particularly difficult on the knees.
Former tennis player turned actor Alex Lutz embodies Thomas. As an athlete plus a tormented father and husband who has become obsessed with a comeback, he needs to prove to everyone including his difficult mother (Kristen Scott Thomas) he has the cajones to achieve the greatness that once eluded him.
Viewers unfamiliar with the sport or the practice, physical therapy; mental toughness required to be a professional tennis player may not appreciate the moments throughout showing Thomas's highs and lows. On the other hand, Naomi Osaka's recent, well-publicized problems with psychological challenges--the timing of the U.S. release of this film isn't a coincidence--and being a young star, like Thomas had been before the film begins, elicits many parallels.
Alex Lutz's Thomas commands the stage: not an easy feat when playing opposite the formidable Kristen Scott Thomas. He modulates his facial expressions, gestures to portray many stages of hope and doubt. Ana Girardot, in contrast, (Thomas's wife, Eve) has the unenviable role as a former tennis pro who delayed her new career aspirations to support her husband's return. She doesn't avoid confronting her husband about his unrealistic aspirations or her own frustration with his lack of time spent with their young son.
Final Set staggers in its intensity but the dialogue sometimes disappoints (e.g., losing a match point, "tragic" or lost in translation?). Writer/Director Quentin Reynaud's director's eye satisfies in most scenes. Moreover, he makes clear how the game has evolved from the finesse of Borg's tenure to the slam/bang hard tennis we see today. One of the alleged reason's the Swedish sensation who won six French Opens retired from the sport at such an early age, twenty-five.
Filming tennis scenes can be difficult, and not always successful (Wimbledon, 2004), but unlike with other tennis stories, Cinematographer Vincent Mathias catches the volleys without giving the viewer a crick in the neck. His varied shots, slow-motion used sparingly, help elevate this film's status in the sports filmmaking sphere. Notice the opening, the almost balletic serve. Wait for it again when it's re-introduced at a pivotal moment.
Final Set will appeal to anyone who has picked up a racket or has felt conflicted about how far they would, could go to win.
Unrated. French with English subtitles. Some unsportsmanlike conduct, a nasty blister and adult themes.
Opening August 27 in New York (Yes, before the U. S. Open) and VOD (Video-on-Demand).
Earlier reviews not seen on this website (before May 20, 2021) are available on https://www.rottentomatoes.com/critic/wendy-shreve/movies or my previous blog site, featuringfilm.com
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