Fidelio : L’Odyssée D’Alice (Fidelio: Alice’s Journey)

fidelio - in bed.jpg

Alice (Ariane Labed) reunites with old lover Gael (Melvil Poupaud) 

Director Lucie Borleteau’s first feature is a gentle persistent ocean wave, carrying a young woman on a voyage of erotic desire and self-questioning. Alice (Ariane Labed), a thirty-year old mechanic, leaves her boyfriend, Félix (Anders Danielsen Lie) to work as the only female on the Marseille-docked cargo ship ‘Fidelio’. Discovering the diaries of the dead mechanic whom she replaced (his body rests in one of the ship’s holding rooms before it is buried at sea) and reuniting with old lover and Fidelio’s captain, Gaël (Melvil Poupaud), her relationship with Félix becomes complicated.

Screenwriters Borleteau and Clara Bourreau position Alice’s odyssey against a backdrop of contrasting worlds. On Fidelio, shots of wide ocean-horizons (kept to a minimum) cut with the noisy engine room and claustrophobic cabins below-deck; while on land, domestic family gatherings slice with exotic club-scenes. While always vivid these scenes are never hyper-real: the film strives for, and achieves, an authenticity that is easy on the eye, pleasing to watch, without belying the truth of Alice’s experience.

Despite the film’s robust eroticism and Alice working as a mechanic in a male-dominated environment, Borleteau steers the film away from fiesty feminist polemic, towards Alice’s internal landscape. The result is a charming, non-judgemental study of confusion and inner-torment as Alice moves between boyfriend, lover and one-night-stand, struggling to understand love, monogamy and her own desire.

Alongside Poupaud is pleasingly discordant turn as Gaël, other characters are thoughtfully cast, full-bodied with several light comic turns. However it is Labed’s winning Alice that is most memorable. Mastering fragility and purpose, Labed’s face is a map of closely drawn emotion, with eyes that are as articulate and luminous as the sea on which the ship sails.

Helen Van Kruyssen

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5 Responses to Fidelio : L’Odyssée D’Alice (Fidelio: Alice’s Journey)

  1. Helen Van Kruyssen says:

    Reblogged this on 52 french films.

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  2. Bob Connell says:

    I really appreciated the succinctness of your review (a model summary, too), and am following your blog as an example of good writing. The film not hyper-real, certainly, yet with an infectious dreaminess mirroring the timelessness of the sea. Not a feminist polemic either – so true, as we wait for the lecture that never comes; that Alice is a highly competent second engineer on an immense container ship makes the film compelling from the start.

    The movie is suitably layered to reveal the nature of Alice’s romantic odyssey, as she rejects and is rejected in turn, seeking a deeper relationship beyond the confines of a promiscuous normality. (There is a lot to be said for the observation that younger women trying man after man to find the ‘right one’, like an anxious sorting through clothes on a rack, could apply to the thirty-year-old Alice, too.) The great ship is one of her loves, too, as she tends its oily engines with devotion – the engine room like a real-life counterpart of the grungy but familiar interior of the Nostromo in Alien. At the end, we feel for the ship too, the future of which, too, is in the balance.

    The ending is not pat, and we wonder if Alice can find a partner with whom to achieve a mutual fidelity. The vastness of the sea and the interior of the ship form alternating environments, with jolly social scenes enlivening the journey, and the pace of the voyage sets a gentle pace for the film itself.

    It was good to see Labed in a naturalistic lead, rather than as a bit player in Before Midnight, and in highly ritualized roles, in her debut in Athina Rachel Tsangari’s Attenberg, and in Yorgos Lanthimos’ Alps (2011) and The Lobster (2015); she emerges as a fine young actor, with a highly promising career ahead of her.

    Recommended as a touching and enjoyable first feature. On a musical note, string quartets are in – Ravel’s in Fidelio – and quartets by Britten, Shostakovich and Schnttke in The Lobster!

    I trust you don’t mind me sharing my own thoughts with you like this.

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    • Helen Van Kruyssen says:

      Hi Bob – this is a great response. Please feel free to comment as you wish. I saw the Lobster the other night. Interesting film. Difficult to make a film with ‘heart’ and ideology in equal measure, I think! Labed is a fascinating performer. Intellectual and vulnerable, certainly one to follow. Lucie Borleteau has such a fresh voice, too. I think she’s shooting a French TV drama series at the moment … Looking forward to your future comments, H

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      • nicolaliteraryramblings says:

        Hi, I just saw The Lobster last week too. Half our group loved it, the other half felt a bit perplexed and unsure. I think I fell in the middle. Some brilliant moments (and Olivia Colman one of my favourite actresses in the world) but a bit of a push for me overall. Hmm.

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      • Helen Van Kruyssen says:

        Yes, I agree. Something didn’t sit quite right. But it was an impressive film.

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