“Dernier Stade” is a sobering, cautionary tale about the seductive dangers of steroid use by professional athletes, as epitomized by a female track star whose joy in running is decimated by drug dependency. Hard-hitting drama, which condemns the victory-at-all-costs mentality, is a natural for issue-oriented tube slots, though contextual nudity and frank sex scenes may prove problematic for certain broadcast outlets.
Twenty-five-year-old runner Catherine Delaunay (Anne Richard) becomes French champ after the official winner is disqualified for drug use. However, a muscle tear mere weeks before a vital race means sitting out the season and relinquishing her title. At the urging of her hard-boiled German coach and an ethically questionable sports doctor, Catherine accepts illegal drug treatment to enable her to continue training and competing.
Pic shows how anabolic steroids, growth hormones and masking agents take their toll on Catherine’s personality and health, locking her into a nerve-wracking cycle of carefully calibrated drug use, necessitating a stash of “clean” urine in case of a random inspection.
When Catherine kicks the drugs but sees her times suffer, an athletic federation official insists she get pregnant to benefit from the natural boost of early-pregnancy hormones. (This crass but apparently effective ruse meshes nicely with recent revelations that East German sportswomen were forced to do just that.)
Tough, lean Richard convinces as the competitor who is ashamed of her chemical assists but more afraid of failing at the only thing she’s ever pursued. Philippe Volter as her sports reporter boyfriend is a little stiff in his crusade to rescue her from herself, and several supporting players are melodramatic, but competition sequences, shot during actual races, have the ring of truth.
Tech credits are adequate. Tenor sax player David Murray’s jazzy, dissonant score frequently overwhelms the action.
Pic’s French title means both “final stadium” and “final stage,” as in the last step of an evolving process.