Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sat Mar 07, 2020 5:35 pm 
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Do ideas and politics mix?

In a filmed interview prepared for the Rendez-Vous audience (because of restricted travel due to the coronavirus), director/writer Nicolas Pariser explained that he had two film ideas, one about a politician whose career has run dry, another about an intellectual young woman. He thought neither of them had enough weight in itself, so he decided to combine them into one film. So we got Alice and the Mayor. Then, it was important to get Fabrice Lucchini and Anaïs Demoustier, since the two actors were essential to his conception of the characters. Luckily, he got them. If he hadn't, he said, he might have tried to hire Isabelle Huppert as the mayor and Vincent Lacoste as the young intellectual.

In the film as it was made, the mayor of Lyon, Paul Théraneau (Fabrice Lucchini), has spent thirty years in politics but for some time has felt uninspired. Somehow, we don't know how, he finds a brilliant young woman philosopher (actually a lit. doctorate but somehow teaching philosophy at Oxford now), Alice (Anaïs Demoustier), and persuades her to come back to her native Lyon to serve as his advisor.

Anne's presence does stir things up. Pariser gives us a scene or two of the full-dress mayoralty in function, with Théraneau looking very bored. She starts giving him notes, the first of one is "More modesty." She becomes his confidante. Demoustier is great in this role, because she seems unflappable, calm yet fresh-faced, chutzbah plus cool. (Freckles add a lot.) Only when things get very complicated does Alice finally break down, and in time, this odd position has so much grown on her that when it's about to disappear, she's sad.

This is an ideal vehicle for Lucchini, who always nudges the war of the sexes but whose great gift is for making ideas come alive - whether they are his or those of the French classics; or simply at highly articulate speech. In fact his beginning was as an actor for Eric Rohmer, and another point in the interview was that Pariser is a great fan of Rohmer, so he too is an inspiration, and having a Rohmer actor appeals to him. This also seems an improvement over Pariser's The Great Game (reviewed in R-V 2016), his debut, a political thriller that ran out of thrill two thirds of the way through. A different trajectory applies here because the mayor gets very jazzed up and develops great plans to become head of the socialist party, but when that falls through, he deflates again, no longer devoid of ideas but devoid of ambition, ready to become a professor, perhaps. In fact, there is no hint of anything sexual between Alice and the mayor: she has an old (boy)friend who comes and goes and dates a new one, a book publisher she admires when she learns of his focus on artisanal printing and well-made books, one small step away from a corporatized world.

In his interview Pariser also said that he had to enliven the action (which still is very talky, especially by American standards): he could not shoot people sitting around at desks. In this film aides and a chief of staff, dynamic and authoritative woman of color called Isabelle (Léonie Simaga), are constantly calling on Alice and moving her to a new location to see the mayor. In this, Pariser said, he was inspired by Aaron Sorkin's "West Wing" (whose dynamic walk-and-talk sequences in the White House are justly famous).

At some point there's a discussion of whether politicians have ideas. It's said that they only care about power, and don't have time for abstract thought.

Somehow this is at least a mite better than Pariser's 2015 debut Le grand jeu (confirmed by AlloCiné 3.8 vs. 3.7, for various reasons. First, it frankly declares itself to be about ideas, which Pariser obviously is. Second, its central setup is engaging and simple and keeps a clear focus. Third, he actors. Actually, the relationship between the over-sixty man and the attractive thirtyish woman is resonant in itself, but is managed with good taste. The mayor's behavior is impeccable. They never even touch, until there's a friendly face-kiss only at the end, when they meet again some time later. This may be a heavy dose of French talkiness, but Rohmer and Sorkin might not have disapproved. Lyon is a pretty impressive city, by the way.

Alice and the Mayor, Alice et le maire, 103 mins, debuted at Cannes May 2019 in Directors' Fortnight, and opened in French theaters in Oct., with an AlloCiné press rating of 3.8 (76%). Anaïs Demoustier won the Best Actress award for her performance at the 2020 Césars. She had won the 2011 Meilleure Espoir Féminin (Most Promising Newcomer) for [

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