Review: Alice and the Mayor
by Fabien Lemercier
- CANNES 2019: Nicolas Pariser delivers a very clever and quirky political comedy, with brilliant performances from Fabrice Luchini and Anaïs Demoustier
"I would have loved my fellow men in spite of themselves". This Jean-Jacques Rousseau quote taken from Reveries of a Solitary Walker and appearing in Nicolas Pariser’s Alice and the Mayor [+see also:
interview: Nicolas Pariser
film profile] - his latest film unveiled at the 51st Directors’ Fortnight of the 72nd Cannes Film Festival – pretty much sums up the inclination of this French filmmaker, who is once again tapping into the real world of politics following on from his highly acclaimed first opus, The Great Game [+see also:
film profile] (discovered in Locarno in 2015 and winner of the Louis-Delluc Award for Best First Film). But this time, as he attempts to decipher rules and systems, observing the various exploits of different individuals without ever passing judgement on human weaknesses – and subsequently allowing for the emergence of a vast thinking space on the role that ideas and ideals can play in the complex remit of the Republic - the director has chosen to borrow from the comedy genre after trying his hand at a thriller; though the film still retains his slightly offbeat style, bearing all the markings of a form of auteur cinema which “doesn’t have a problem with entertainment".
"Your job is to work on ideas, to take a step back from day-to-day municipal activities, to think about the future". This is the position which Alice (Anaïs Demoustier), a young philosopher who has taught at Oxford, of all places, find herself thrust into at Lyon’s town hall and council; a world whose habits and customs she knows absolutely nothing about, but with which she is about to become rapidly acquainted. Called to the rescue when the mayor (Fabrice Luchini), a seasoned politician, realises he’s run clean out of ideas ("I feel like I’ve run out of fuel; like a race car with a powerful motor but which is running low on gas"), Alice is swiftly moved up through the ranks of the municipal hierarchy off the back of a series of one-to-one discussions (held at the strangest times - in the car, in the evening, etc.) with the municipal leader, who begins to enjoy their exchanges; a sharing of ideas which sets out with clarity and simplicity what it is that politics can do today, what it can’t do and what it can no longer do, all the while painting an unvarnished picture of the work that goes on in the town halls of the great metropolises – from the work of communications teams to that of town councils, from commemorations and inaugurations to cultural events, from brainstorming meetings to the speech-writing process, from major projects, developed on the basis of hollow marketing concepts provided by experts of all kinds, to behind-the-scenes political manoeuvring for parties and national ambitions… All this suffused with the all-consuming passion that swallows up people’s private lives, arouses professional jealousy and comes close, at times, to bordering on the absurd (reading a book in half an hour, leading a mediation on a subject you know nothing about, etc.), but which has a real, material effect on each and every citizen living in a modern-day environment where austerity measures rule…
Weaving a highly detailed and fascinating exploration of a subject of public interest which is, on paper, very difficult to transpose to film, and which was made even harder by the director’s determination not to weigh the plot down with dramatic narrative twists, Nicolas Pariser manages to convey the different faces of a democratic crisis, without imposing oversimplified notions of right and wrong. A film of many words (which will no doubt put a dampener on the enthusiasm of action fans), the story unfurls smoothly, and not without humour, thanks to the depth of the dialogue which the two protagonists deliver with aplomb. And if the final strait might seem to some to be lacking in bite - true to its realist roots to the end - the film is nonetheless a great example of the universally useful thinking space that cinema can provide under cover of a sensitively handled and intelligent comedy.
Alice and the Mayor was produced by Bizibi and co-produced by Arte France Cinéma, Auvergne Rhône-Alpes Cinéma, Les Films du 10 and Belgian outfit Scope Pictures. International sales are headed up by Bac Films.
(Translated from French)
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