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New Release Review - FIDELIO: ALICE'S JOURNEY

A ship's engineer struggles to remain faithful to her boyfriend.


Review by Eric Hillis (@hilliseric)

Directed by: Lucie Borleteau

Starring: Ariane Labed, Melvil Poupaud, Anders Danielsen Lie




"The verisimilitude of this world is convincing enough as to be thoroughly immersive and engaging. The film and Labed's performance leave us wanting to follow Alice on further journeys. You could do worse than stowing away on the Fidelio for its 97 minute trip."





While American actresses increasingly struggle to find worthy roles for women over the age of 30, French cinema has such an abundance of these parts, it's been forced to import talent like Charlotte Rampling and Kristin Scott Thomas. If anything, there is a dearth of good roles for younger women in France. In the past couple of years we've been introduced to a host of young female French acting talent, to such a degree that, unless they follow Marion Cotillard and Lea Seydoux, and become fluent in English, there simply won't be enough parts to go around. What next for Blue is the Warmest Color's Adele Exarchopoulos? For Girlhood's Karidja Toure? Les Combattants' Adele Haenel?
Joining this growing queue is Kristen Stewart lookalike Ariane Labed (wife of Greek auteur Yorgos Lanthimos, trivia fans), the star of Lucie Borleteau's Fidelio: Alice's Journey. She plays the titular Alice, a young ship's engineer in a relationship with Norwegian cartoonist Felix (Anders Danielsen Lie). When Alice finds herself the sole female on a lengthy trip aboard cargo freighter Fidelio - whose handsome captain, Gael (Melvil Poupaud), is a former lover from her days as a Merchant Navy cadet - any chances of maintaining monogamy are quickly buried at sea.
France is a highly schizophrenic nation, struggling to balance liberal social attitudes with the sort of conservative attitudes to race and gender its Northern European neighbours shook off long ago. Take a scene from Fidelio, in which our heroine is subjected to an attempted rape. It occurs at a point early enough for the film to have not quite planted any sort of narrative flag, so we immediately assume its implications will form the meat of the remainder of the movie. Not so. Alice practically shrugs it off, simply advising her attacker to leave the ship, which he does. We hear no more of the incident. This would be unfathomable for most movies, but in a film created by a trio of women (director Borleteau and co-writers Mathilde Boisseleau and Clara Bourreau), it's a damning indictment of French gender politics. This scene also sets us thinking about whether Borleteau's movie is a celebration or condemnation of Alice's sexual liberty. Is the film suggesting that by sleeping with other crew members, Alice somehow encouraged this attack? We'll have to give Borleteau the benefit of the doubt, even if some doubts niggle at the back of our minds.
This problematic moment notwithstanding, Borleteau has done an impressive job of creating a tangible world on board the title vessel. The crew aren't the sort of people you'd likely want to spend any time with in real life, but watching them onscreen, you succumb to a sort of Stockholm Syndrome, becoming numb to their at times questionable behaviour in the same way someone in Alice's position would have to, and accepting their rugged, ignorant charm. There's not much in the way of plot, and I couldn't care less about Alice's doomed from the start relationship with the cuckolded Felix, but the verisimilitude of this world is convincing enough as to be thoroughly immersive and engaging. The film and Labed's performance leave us wanting to follow Alice on further journeys. You could do worse than stowing away on the Fidelio for its 97 minute trip.



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