Alice (4 stars)

Alice

A French woman turns to prostitution in this unexpectedly uplifting tale of deception and liberation

Some films seem powered by the sheer steam of their lead performance; Alice, the feature debut from Australian writer-director Josephine Mackerras, is one such film. Set in Paris, the winner of the 2019 SXSW Film Festival's Narrative Feature Award is a race against the clock, a blistering attack on sexist double-standards, an ode to friendship, and a leftfield take on female empowerment.

Emilie Piponnier is a blazing cinematic presence as a woman left gobsmacked and flailing after a galling betrayal, who is brought to the brink of financial and emotional ruin. Apparently adored by her showily romantic husband François (Boris Becker-alike Martin Swabey) and blessed with a cute tot (played by the director's own son Jules), Alice's domestic idyll is revealed to be the cruellest of delusions.

When a trip to the shops results in her card being declined, a confused Alice visits the bank and discovers that her husband has cleaned out their accounts and stopped paying their mortgage; a bit of digging later and she discovers the money has been spent on prostitutes. François, meanwhile, has done a runner. With the bank threatening to foreclose on her home and a huge sum to pay, and fast, Alice agrees to work for the very escort agency her husband favoured; there is quite simply nothing else that will keep the roof over her head.

It's a story that will really get under your skin, with ample tension derived from Alice's desperate plight and Swabey playing a swine to snivelling perfection. If there's grit in the subject matter, there's comedy in Alice's clumsiness and her frolics with fellow escort Lisa (Chloé Boreham), and perhaps a hint of fantasy, as Alice takes charge of her finances and, eventually, her destiny.

Shot with the kind of fluidity that communicates its protagonist's bewilderment and, later, her liberation, the film also bathes Alice in a nurturing, protective glow. Mackerras's take on prostitution won't be for everyone, and it does sugar-coat the profession somewhat, but it's a sympathetic and often gutsy portrait of a woman doing what she must, and surviving, even thriving. 'All these years I've done what everyone expected of me,' Alice frustratedly tells François when he returns. This is her fighting back.

Available to watch on demand from Fri 24 Jul.

Alice

  • 4 stars
  • 2019
  • 1h 43min
  • Directed by: Josephine Mackerras
  • Cast: Emilie Piponnier, Martin Swabey, Chloé Boreham

Writer-director Josephine Mackerras’s powerful debut feature won the Grand Jury Award at SX, SW. Happily married Alice’s (Emilie Piponnier) life is turned upside down when she discovers her husband (Martin Swabey) has spent all their money on prostitutes and they are now a year behind on their mortgage. In a last-ditch…

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