SXSW 2019: ALICE Gets Pushed to the Brink but Never Gives Up

Parisian drama explores the strength of a woman in distress

There are demarcation lines of approved behavior for everyone. Good boys do this. Nice girls do that. When events happen outside of our control, all bets are off, and SXSW Narrative Competition entry Alice shows just how far that can go.

This French-language film delves straight into the heart of a family in crisis. Things start off well enough with Alice (Emilie Piponnier) and Francois (Martin Swabey) raising a son in relative comfort. Soon enough, Francois is gone, and Alice has to pick up the life he has destroyed through his selfish actions.

Caught between financial straights and a complete lack of familial support–the phone call with her mother is devastating–she starts working as an escort. This jarring change in lifestyle requires lots of adaptation, including friendship with a new compatriot Lisa (Chloé Boreham). While a setup like this could be rife for pandering and manipulation, director Josephine Mackerras explores the extremes of Alice’s internal and external struggles, especially when Francois comes back into the picture.

There might be a touch of sympathy in regards to Francois, but when faced with what he’s done, he neither owns up to it nor truly apologizes, and by film’s end, he’s actually made matters worse. The male side of this equation was always going to be easy to despise, but in this case, it’s far too easy.

The other men in the story aren’t much better. The bank employees are more than happy to foreclose on the house of a woman who they know is a victim, granting extensions like treats to a dog. The johns are actually the most real men around. They are full of weakness and need, and allow Alice to weather the salacious storm relatively unscathed.

Alice herself is a picture of strength, though ot in the Marvel superhero way. When her life falls apart, she almost does, too. It’s only through force of will, both for her son and herself, that she’s able to make the hard choices that begin to dig her out of the hole her husband dug deep.

With a top-notch cast, perfectly ordinary Paris locations, and a story that bobs and weaves in perfect rhythm, Alice is a foreign film that hits universal themes. No woman should ever have to suffer what Alice does, but after seeing her resilience, there’s no doubt about the strength that is possible in all of us.

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