Film Review: Alice
The female experience can be explored in a wide range of ways, but it’s when you don’t focus on the woman aspect as much as the human one things become brilliant. In Josephine Mackerras’ new award winning (Best Narrative Feature at SXSW 2019), film Alice, a woman finds her awakening when she hits bottom by a devastating family secret. It’s through her pain and disbelief that she finds her true self and her inner resolve. A lesson that we all can learn a thing or to from as we battle our own personal demons and obstacle courses.
Alice (Emilie Piponnier) shares a beautiful life with her young son and loving husband Francois (Martin Swabey). She’s a stay at home mom while her professor husband writes his novel. Her days can be mundane, but the time with her family is priceless. All seems to be perfect until she’s faced with the heart wrenching reality that life is not what she thought it was. Her husband’s deep dark secret has come to life and threatens the very home they live in.
It’s in times of heartache that we realize where our strength lies as we focus on pulling ourselves back to center. That is exactly what Alice does, She ventures out to save her world, becoming the responsible earner of the family. This job, however, is not a career she respected, and certainly not one she ever thought she’d find herself in. Yet, this unexpected profession ends up being something that changes her for the better.
One of the most powerful things about the first part of the film is that this life eruption comes out of nowhere. When we are first introduced to Alice and her family, they seem strong and connected. There may be moments that you realize she might be taken advantage of by her friends, but you never see any indication that her husband is anything but a loyal husband and father.
When Alice breaks apart, the audience does as well. You feel the same pain and upside down emotions that Alice feels, and that bond only continued to strengthen as the film continues. A large part of this is due to the camera work cinematographer Mickael Delahaie and Mackerras created together. The world that was created is intimate. The audience shares in Alice’s struggles and experience her rise above the ashes when her inner flame ignites.
I also love that Alice touches on a few profound cultural significant situations in a woman’s life. It addresses the way these situations are perceived by the world, and even females themselves, yet also explores how they are completely different at their core. One of those is the gender gap, for a lack of a better phrase. Alice is home taking care of the kids, keeping the house in order, and even picking up the slack for friends who are frazzled by life. Yet, even though she’s keeping her surroundings together, she’s not aware of the inner workings of her own world. Francois is in charge of all the finances and business facets of daily life. He even rejects the idea of her getting a job to supplement money as he works on his novel. In his mind, though, a husband is supposed to take care of the household. And in this case, this was the reason Alice did not see the devastation waiting in the wings.
This idea is further explored when Alice finally breaks down and talks to her mother. Her mother’s response to her situation is shocking and unsupportive, in polite terms. Her mother wonders if maybe the reason Alice and her husband are having problems is because she wasn’t being the wife and mother that she’s supposed to be, that Francois failings are due to Alice’s inferiority. As you can imagine, this does not sit well with Alice, and it’s in this moment that we witness her shift towards strength.
This awakening comes to fruition through her new career—becoming an escort. She embraces it in its imperfections, which is powerful because she decides to change her aversion and see it with a different perception. This career wasn’t about submitting to male fantasies for money, even though the large ‘salary’ did help, it was about her taking the power of sex back into her own hands. This whole journey for Alice started because she needed to find a way to take care of herself and her family in order to stabilize their world. However, it ends up being the exactly the thing she needed to find in her true self by taking the power of her life back into her own hands.
Throughout our lives, we tend to find ourselves in different roles, be it job or family. These roles stick because of an element of our own personality. It evolves to take over everything about us and we are only seen as that title by others who think a mother can’t possibly take care of a child and finances, and a sex worker cannot be a strong female while having sex for money. The reality is that we make our own lives, no matter what others may think we are. It can be hard to see beyond their perceptions, but when we do we are all the stronger for it.
That’s the message I walked away with from Alice. It was a beautiful exploration of human strength through adversity, as seen through the eyes of a female. It’s not about a woman in her lowest point having sex for money, it’s about a person who is finding the strength to live her life the way she wants. Polished yet vulnerable, the film is a beautiful piece of art that mimics Alice’s journey.
Finding one’s inner strength is a powerful thing to witness, and Alice will sit with the audience for evermore because of the vulnerability they share with the story. Now it is up to us to take this inspiration and find our own power that lies within.
Written by Lisa M Mejia
Photo Credit: Alice Film