‘Alice’ is an enlightening, escort tale set in the City of Light

“Alice”  – “The saddest thing about betrayal is that it never comes from your enemies.” – Unknown Author

Alice and Francois Ferrand (Emilie Piponnier and Martin Swabey) built a beautiful life together.  They enjoy a happy marriage, adore their healthy, young son Jules (Jules Milo Levy Mackerras) and live in a lovely, bright apartment in the heart of Paris, one of the world’s landmark cities.  Writer/director Josephine Mackerras efficiently establishes these definite certainties within her film’s first few minutes, including Alice declaring to Francois – with a smile and some relief – as he enters their home after a long workday, “My savior! My darling, can you take Jules, please?”

She is baking a cake for a dinner party, and the three huddle in the kitchen, as Francois invents alternative names for chocolate frosting that cause Alice and Jules to giggle.

They make a charming family; at least it seems that way.  Mackerras soon reveals a critical fact, one hidden from the movie’s opening moments.  Francois frequently sleeps with high-end escorts, and as one would expect, such an addiction can cost more than a random Euro or two.

This violation of the highest marital order carpet-bombs all of the aforementioned affable pleasantries and lays them to waste.  However, fate interjects quite ironically, as Alice now finds herself working in the same industry that her husband occupied as a paying customer.

Due to film’s title, Mackerras naturally chronicles Alice’s provocative journey, and Piponnier is wholly convincing – in a delicate, complex performance – as a responsible, white-collar worker and devoted wife and mother who is now facing her demons in the Paris circuit.  Alice is scared, hesitant and feels overwhelmed in this radically different setting.  All the while, she’s also furious and befuddled with Francois’ thoughtless transgressions, but her daring curiosity, along with a specific necessity, draws her into this dubious profession.

Is she embarrassed?  Does she confront danger?  Is she a victim, or is she empowered?   Is this a short-lived choice or a long-term commitment?

Alice faces these very stressful open questions, and Mackerras and Piponnier successfully and emotionally pull us into the character’s mindset….and various hotels around the city.  This review won’t reveal the answers, but note that the director does not graphically display Alice’s encounters.

Certainly, Mackerras’ camera is present in the rooms, and she does not shy away from adult themes, but nudity is minimal, and the discourses between Alice and her johns offer real intrigue.  Every intimate meeting is unique because not only are the men very dissimilar, but Ms. Ferrand’s perspective evolves as well.  The film also sprinkles in some humor, and these unexpected comedic moments seem so natural, they feel like blooper reel material included in the final cut.

Please make no mistake that Alice is also a wounded soul, and one left with severe doubts about her future, including the point that she’s responsible for a small child.  As a filmmaker, Mackerras is accountable to her heroine, but also the male clients and Alice’s new friend Lisa (Chloe Boreham), an escort.

They are rich, nuanced characters, and even though some only appear on-screen for a few minutes, we receive some genuine snippets of insight that beg for more backstories.  In short, Mackerras’ film – with gorgeous, sunny Paris as a welcome backdrop – feels like an authentic look at the human spirit at its most vulnerable.  Swabey’s transformative performance delivers sizable swells of emotional exposure too, but Piponnier shines as the brightest star, as Alice attempts to regain her luster after the ultimate betrayal from her closest ally.

(Available to stream on the Phoenix Film Festival’s Home Movie site)

⭐⭐⭐ 1/2  out of  ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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