Living with her son and husband Francois (Martin Swabey), Alice (Emilie Piponnier) enjoys a perfect life until one day she finds her reality turned upside down when she discovers that her bank accounts are empty, and her husband has vanished. In a desperate attempt to find him, Alice discovers that Francois has developed an addiction to high-class escorts, spending the family’s savings in order to pay for his escapades. In order to continue paying large sums of money back to the bank and settle his past debts, Alice delves deeper into the world of sex work, discovering more about herself and the emancipation from the shackles of societal norms that can be acquired in the process.
A French film filled with passion, despair, deceit, betrayal and liberation, Alice is quite the well-rounded package, with plenty of elements that tick all the boxes for a romantic drama. Written and directed by Josephine Mackerras and led by a powerful and versatile performance from Piponnier, Alice takes very little time to kick into action. In the first act, it dives into the story at breakneck speed but is less blunt when establishing the characters’ personalities and the film’s motifs, with the intention of consistently developing them as we proceed. Albeit feeling initially rushed, this method works to a point, sweeping the viewer away into a world in which many will have no real experience, much like the protagonist. Some of the dialogue is a bit “on the nose”, but in this case it becomes more excusable as Alice’s world visibly crumbles around her and she enters into a land of unorthodox behaviour.
Including humorous encounters during moments of sexual activity, some of the most enjoyable scenes in the film come from Alice’s new-found friend Lisa (Chloé Boreham). She’s an escort too and teaches Alice the art and simplicities of their job first, but later moves on to showing her how to live a fuller life, shedding light on how the different views society lays on their profession can be tarnishing, but for the ladies themselves it can prove to be something more. The friendship that blossoms between the two comes to the most satisfying of climaxes towards the movie’s end, ultimately rounding off the importance of their companionship and how, in life, a counterpart can open your eyes to what you truly want: quite simply, happiness.
On the whole, Alice is a bold success. However, throughout the film our heroine never comes up against any shocking danger in her new profession, causing our attention and interest in her fate to fade. It could be argued that the injection of a greater threat from a source other than her desperate, redemption-seeking husband as it enters a slightly messier third act may have added that one final dynamic required to thrust this film into the upper echelons of storytelling brilliance.
What does fill this void however is a very poignant ending where you are left asking yourself if life’s real crime is settling for a dull marriage? This moral conundrum is certainly a provocative farewell after this 103-minute ride draws to a close, and it becomes clear why the film received a positive festival response, winning the Grand Jury Award at SXSW in 2019. If you are in the mood for a sexy romantic thriller then Alice will certainly be the one for you.
Alice is released digitally on demand on 24th July 2020.
Watch the trailer for Alice here: