Alice

 

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Married life is no wonderland in this tale of a wife whose life takes a new route.

 
Alice

Emilie Piponnier

 

The writer/director Josephine Mackerras is Australian but for her feature debut she gives us a film that is set in Paris and performed in French with subtitles. It is a work with a strongly female perspective, something that not only affects what is being said but has resulted in this being a film in which the female characters dominate. One senses too that Mackerras had a special bond with her actresses since it is their highly engaging performances that give the greatest pleasure here. But it is also the case that for a first feature Alice is directed with great assurance and there are many opportunities for the editor Marsha Bramwell to contribute to the forward momentum of the storytelling.

 

The Alice of the title is Alice Ferrand (Emilie Piponnier) and the film's opening scene is suggestive of domestic bliss as her husband François (Martin Swabey) leaves for work while Alice looks after their young    son Jules (Jules Milo Levy Mackerras). But in no time at all Alice is finding her bank cards rejected and learning two things about François that take her totally by surprise: one is that he is so much in debt that their apartment is set to be subjected to a foreclosure order and the second is that the money he has fritted away (much of it Alice's own) has been spent on visits to an agency which sets the tone of high-class prostitution involved by trading under the name of Elegant Escorts. At this stage François himself disappears from sight.

 

The story that develops finds Alice needing to raise large funds immediately if she is to save her home: she obtains the wherewithal to do so by becoming one of the well-paid elegant escorts herself. The way in which this comes about may be rather contrived but one can nevertheless go with it and enjoy the outcome. Rather than feeling degraded by this new line of work, Alice experiences it as enabling her to become more independent in outlook so that she is ready to keep François at bay when he returns and possessively demands a second chance.

 

Alice certainly spells out the different standards for men and women that continue to exist in society with Alice's actions inviting disgust as a response while at the same time it is regarded as understandable male behaviour that François should be a client of Elegant Escorts. There is no doubt at all over Mackerras seeing Alice as the film's heroine and the film could be read as a work approving of such agencies although it is surely rather glib when the film suggests that in this context the women are in charge (victims of trafficking are cited as being in a different category altogether). Be that as it may, Piponnier together with Chloé Boreham and Marie-Laure Dougnac as escort girls who befriend Alice play so well that this film only loses its way when it comes to matters of tone. Much of the time Mackerras opts for drama while avoiding any sense of heavy drama, but on occasion self-consciously humorous touches (not least in scenes showing Alice with her first clients) turn it towards comedy. Then at the climax the drama does become heavier by putting Alice in a situation in which her son could be taken away from her. This inconsistency of tone can only be seen as a limitation, but Mackerras and her leading actress undoubtedly make a mark even so.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Emilie Piponnier, Martin Swabey, Chloé Boreham, Jules Milo Levy Mackerras, Marie-Laure Dougnac, Christophe Favre, Marie Coulonjou, Juliette Tresanini, Eliza Calmet, Philippe de Monts, David Coburn.

 

Dir Josephine Mackerras, Pro Josephine Mackerras, Screenplay Josephine Mackerras, Ph Mickael Delahaie, Ed Marsha Bramwell, Music Alexander Levy Forrest, Costumes Christian Corcelles.

 

Visit Films/Oneart Productions-Eureka Entertainment.
105 mins. UK/Australia/France. 2019. Rel: 24 July 2020. Available on VOD. Cert. 15.