A wonderfully observed French drama about finding your way in the world, Alice is anchored by a superb central performance from Emilie Piponnier as a young wife and mother forced into extreme circumstances by a wayward husband.
An apparently blissful marriage seems to exist between Piponnier and husband Francois, played by Martin Swabey. He has literary ambitions, that are progressing very slowly, but she supports him and they seem very much in love. All this changes however when Piponnier tries to take out money from her bank only to find that she has been cleaned ut, her family savings and inheritance gone.
Her husband has disappeared and won’t return her calls, she finds phone numbers which reveal that he has been visiting upmarket prostitutes, her world has collapsed. The house will be repossessed unless she can find money from somewhere. This leads her to the escort agency which she visits to initially find her husband, but making friends with Lisa, (Chloe Boreham), she decides it could be a financial way out.
Sex work here isn’t a life of hardship and degredation, catering to high end well groomed rich men, rather than grubby encounters to pay for drugs. Writer/director Mackerras offsets the potential unpalatableness with some deft comedy and a Piponnier’s performance, nervous and clumsy initially but finding empowerment. When her husband arrives back on the scene, Piponnier has to decide if she can forgive and forget or do custody battle over her son, abandoned by his father but potentially torn away from her by her sex work.
The hypocrisy of the law is exposed subtly, a terrible father is still more palatable than a loving mother struggling to cope on her own resorting to prostitution.
It’s a character piece, brilliantly inhabited by all the cast, well directed by Australian Mackerras that bursts with humanity, empathy and eventual hope.
Words: Keiron Self
Released on streaming platforms Curzon Home Video/BFI Player/Amazon Prime