The scenario is a lot more subtle than it sounds. In fact, the whole movie – which stars UK star Kristin Scott Thomas in a French-speaking role – is a confident and slow-burning study in family dynamics and human psychology.
Former player Thomas Edison, portrayed with enormous empathy and flair by Alex Lutz, was on the path to greatness from childhood when he was already picked as a future star. The film opens with Edison, now 37, hearing from his doctor the familiar story about ageing ligaments and joints and the crippling knee injury that struck him down in his prime. It was a disastrous moment during a 2001 tournament that remains on painful instant replay as an example of one of the great tragedies of tennis.
Thomas now coaches while living under the permanent shadow of what might have been, in a loving marriage with another former player with whom he has a young son. But he wants a comeback and when he misses out on a wild-card entry into Roland Garros, France’s major tennis open, he decides to grind his way up through the qualifying ranks. He starts on an outer court, his wife and a few others in attendance, and wins.
Over the course of three brilliantly-staged games, the momentum builds and he is matched in a critical final-round game against one of tennis’ brash young guns, Damien Thosso (Jurgen Briand). By now the media is taking an interest and his wife is barely speaking to him because his success threatens their agreement for her to move into management.
That’s as much of the story that should be told because part of the thrill is inevitably barracking for an underdog who we come to understand and like.
It is a minor gem of a movie that trusts its audience with a lot and Lutz is brilliant in the role, quietly demonstrating how much steel it takes to expose himself to cruel media questioning about his failed career.
His mother (Scott Thomas), meanwhile, was his coach and biggest fan but she can’t even watch his games because it drags her back into the world of hurt in which her son lives.
Final Set is screening again on various dates as part of the Alliance Francaise French Film Festival at Palace Nova Eastend and Palace Nova Prospect until April 20. See the full schedule here and read Penelope Debelle’s preview of this year’s highlights here.