Of course, Mackerras' real target is society's hypocrisy when it comes to sex work. Prostitution is something Alice does, not something that should define her forever. Even an overly-optimistic denouement cannot undercut either that message, or the audience's desire for Alice to have a happy ending.
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Alice (rightfully) regards the choices of its heroine with respect and empathy. But its picture of sex work as an easy out, devoid of any real danger, feels like a simplistic fantasy.
Piponnier dominates every frame, with a mesmerizing screen presence that pushes the drama well beyond its formulaic premise and visible microbudget constraints.
Alice is truly independent like never before and she’s confronted with the unfair fact that she probably won’t be able to maintain it if she also hopes to keep Jules. To watch Piponnier weigh that abhorrent truth is to witness the internal struggle every woman who’s experienced this type of coerced acquiescence faces.
The writer-director's first feature has much going for it, above all a striking performance by Emilie Piponnier in the title role. Neither a fallen-woman melodrama nor an encomium to guilt-free sex work, the complicated moral tale has strong art house potential.
There’s a lot of emotional and intellectual material that writer/director Josephine Mackerras grapples with in Alice, and she is quite successful in doing so.
As Alice, Piponnier is phenomenal, putting in a meticulously reserved performance in what could very well have been a melodramatic role.
It’s one of the most daring films ever made, not so much because of anything it overtly depicts as what this controversial classic reveals about the infinitely complicated psychology of human sexuality.
High-class sex work is presented as a financial quick fix and a route to female empowerment, but the film’s sex-positive politics gloss over any of the job’s potential pitfalls.
This Paris-set debut feature from Australian director Josephine Mackerras negotiates morally complex territory and the minefield of society’s double standards with an admirably light step.