Forte (aka Ballsy Girl) (Cert 15)

Digital/VOD (Distributor: Amazon Prime) Running Time: 94 minutes approx.

Release Date – January 25th

Attracting the opposite sex isn’t as easy as some like to think it is. Confidence in your personality to make the right impression is one thing, but it is true to say most people find appearance counts first. Like it or not, there is a certain “look” appealing to most men, and many women try too hard to achieve it in the search for love.

Nour (Melha Bedia) is a chubby, tomboyish bespectacled girl working as an accountant at a gym. She takes little care of her appearance and likes playing football with the lads, which works against her in finding a boyfriend, whilst slender, single mum friend Axelle (Alison Wheeler) can pull without any effort. When football friend/crush Farid (Oussama Kheddam) reveals he prefers more feminine women, Nour takes this badly.

One day at the gym, Nour hears sounds of jubilation from the pole dancing classes, and takes a look. Seeing how trim and athletic all the women are, Nour gingerly chats with instructor Sissi (Valérie Lemercier) who picks up on Nour’s insecurities and offers to teach her for free. Despite her initial trepidation, Nour sees her confidence increase as her skills on the pole do but will it help her find love?

From reading the plot synopsis, it’s might not be so obvious in determining exactly what sort of message Katia Lewkowicz is trying to impart with Forte. Is this the same old ugly duckling to beautiful swan fable? Maybe it is about being confident in your own skin? Or is she keen to dispel the stigma of pole dancing as purely a sexually provocative activity and promote its health and fitness merits?

It’s actually a bit of all three but only touches partly on the first suggestion. Forte means “strong” in French, giving us a clear hint this is about female empowerment and being happy with your body. I can only assume the alternate American title of Ballsy Girl is more to attract attention than it is a reference to Nour’s love of football, or her strength in standing up to societal preconceptions and aesthetic ideals.

Resolutely in crowd-pleasing mode, the didacticism is surprisingly kept to a minimum, the gaps between the lines being spacious enough to read the true intent of the story without ambiguity. Nour stands out from the second she appears on screen – slightly chubby, big round glasses, woolly hat, hoodie, sweatpants and Freddie Mercury teeth, not your usual nightclub get up but she seems comfortable in this.

While Axelle scores with the bartender, Nour is disappointed from Farid not being there. Meanwhile, their male nurse friend Steph (Bastien Ughetto) is also unsuccessful wooing the ladies, prompting suspicions he might be gay, which are later put to the test when a doctor at work Nicolas (Lionel Lingelser) sets his heart pounding. Maybe not the best people to get love advice from but they are all Nour has.

She also has to contend with her controlling mother Nadia (Nanou Garcia) who starts to wonder what Nour is getting up to and why she hasn’t found a boyfriend yet. A typical genre convention arrives when Nadia overhears a jokey but saucy conversation between Nour, Steph, and Axelle and jumps to the wrong conclusion. As you can guess, once the pole dancing sessions begin and Nour is seen outside a specialist club, Nadia fears the worst for her daughter.

Even after Sissi shows Nour the basics of pole dancing, she inculcates how the sexiness is part of the routine but isn’t necessarily about being deliberately lewd or suggestive; it is literally part of the performance. The early going doesn’t skimp on the “big girl falling off the pole” sight gags but doesn’t dwell on them either; a trip to the club where Sissi is training dancers for an open pole night show reveals not all the girls are svelte – one is even pregnant!

There is exponential growth in Nour’s pole dancing skills and self-confidence, teasing the idea of her big glory moment in the finale where everything turns out okay may not be the obvious conclusion. A cruel twist of fate is required, provided by gym colleague Robert (Ramzy Bedia) asking Nour out to dinner, for which she gets dressed up, and then declaring how they are meant to be together, but not quite how Nour hoped for.

Lewkowicz co-wrote the script with star Melha Bedia among others, following as straight a narrative as you will find, including much of the humour. However, aside from a few little gags – such as the guys in the football team showering with a clothed Nour covering up in panic when Axelle walks into the dressing room – the real smart laughs are found in the reactions of the performers as they bring out the nuance of their archetypes.

Bedia, a stand-up comedian in her first lead role, has a catalogue of facial responses and quick-witted retorts on display, from the caustic to naturally perturbed. This helps so much in breaking her character away from the personality over looks stereotype applied to larger people (and she’s not that fat either), that the audience will her on whether she chooses to transform herself or not.  

You might want to argue that Bedia is being brave in putting herself in this position as she is the shape she is, yet the fact she co-wrote the script implies there is an element of personal experience in here too. It comes out in her performance which I’m sure will win her many new fans from being so likeable and relatable, and many more will see her wry take on this familiar struggle as refreshing.

Come the end of its 94-minutes, Forte might quickly slip into the dark recesses of your memory as another mainstream, well-meaning but not heavy-handed morality tale about women reclaiming their own ideals and definitions of femininity from society, but you will remember its gutsy leading lady with fondness and clarity.

Currently available on Amazon Prime

 

Rating – ***

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