Monday, March 18, 2019

SXSW with Abe: Alice

I’m excited to be attending the film festival at South by Southwest for the second time, and I’ll be posting reviews throughout the week as I see as many movies as possible!

Directed by Josephine Mackerras
Narrative Feature Competition

When two people get married, there’s an assumption of happiness and, in most cases, an ideal that they’ll spend the rest of their lives together. Circumstances evidently change, but there’s a honeymoon period in which most couples reside for a good period of time where things seem particularly idyllic. The birth of a child is a potential trigger for strife and discord, and how well two people come out of that milestone depends on their commitment to making it work and to getting back to a good place.

Alice (Emilie Piponnier) is a loyal mother, devoted to her young son. When her credit card is declined at a pharmacy, she is unable to reach her husband Francois (Martin Swabey), who she soon learns has spent all of her money, with her apartment set to be foreclosed on imminently. A call to a number on his computer reveals his addiction to high-end escorts, prompting Alice to take an unusual step to come up with the funds she needs to save her home. With another escort, Lisa (Chloé Boreham), showing her the ropes, Alice finds herself in a place she never expected to be, and not nearly as disgusted by her new reality as she would have thought.

This could be just the latest film in which a desperate woman turns to prostitution in order to support herself, like another SXSW entry, “La Mala Noche,” but it’s actually an entirely different film. When she begins meeting clients, Alice is hopelessly awkward, not sure what to do and devoid of any sort of confidence. She and Lisa discuss how they come to somewhat enjoy their occupation, something they believe shouldn’t be grouped in with human trafficking since there are clear rules in place and they are free to opt out at any point. The seriousness of what Alice is doing only hits her when she realizes the consequences it could have for her relationship with her son.

Piponnier delivers a refreshingly honest and genuine performance as Alice, reacting with understandable shock at the news that her husband has completely betrayed her and portraying a believable hysteria as she grapples with a situation that has spiraled fully out of her control without her ever even knowing about it. Boreham is a solid scene partner, helping to define Lisa as a three-dimensional character fully worthy of being featured alongside Alice. Writer-director Josephine Mackerras’s feature film debut is an immensely worthwhile portrait of a strong protagonist that revisits a familiar concept and shapes it in a compelling, vital way.


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