The Face of Another: Lemercier Normalizes Weird Choices in Bizarre Biopic
Like something novel born out of a 30 Rock satire (remember the unauthorized Janis Joplin biopic, Jackie Jormp Jomp?), French actor/director Valérie Lemercier delivers the confounding Aline, a fictional account of a life inspired by internationally acclaimed chanteuse, Celine Dion. Kudos to Lemercier, who stars as the titular Quebecois wunderkind from the age of a small child to her Las Vegas residency, managing, against the odds, to create a piece of fan fiction which dares to lean into banality.
Once one gets beyond some odd moments which could have veered into either unmitigated camp territory or the essence of nightmares, Lemercier settles into a sobering account of an incredibly talented young woman who is groomed from childhood to be a singing sensation, only quietly emerging with a sense of self after the death of her (much older) husband/manager.
While fans of Dion are sure to enjoy a collection of reference points from the singer’s life, this is the sort of novelty item which will take on a different form or meaning in generations removed from the basis of the inspiration. Although not the stuff of camp classics, Lemercier has created her own unique odd duck with its own specific energy (which might explain its inclusion in the 2021 Cannes Film Festival and a third Cesar win for Lemercier).
The fourteenth child of a loving Quebecois family, Aline Dieu (Lemercier) outshines her older siblings from a young age thanks to her exceptional vocal talents. Growing into a teenager, her parents and siblings assist her with getting a demo to local producer Guy-Claude Kamar (Sylvain Marcel), and thus begins a fast track to superstardom. Sheltered from the world due to her near-immediate fame, Aline begins to have amorous feelings for Guy-Claude, much to her parents’ initial dismay. Eventually she finds happiness in marriage and motherhood. As the years go by and Guy-Claude begins to suffer from health related issues, Aline settles down in Las Vegas for her career defining residency.
Lemercier is best known as a comedienne (her performance in Daniele Thompson’s Orchestra Seats aka Avenue Montaigne, 2006, is a lovely testament to her skills), so her performance as Aline Dieu also serves as a change of pace. Relying almost exclusively on facial expressions until the last act, Lemercier plays Aline as a young woman whose agency is, ironically, drowned out by her vocal talent, sheltered, for the most part, from a cruel entertainment world by her husband/manager.
Rene Angelil is here renamed Guy-Claude Kamar, with Sylvain Marcel resembling a phase somewhere on the Gerard Depardieu evolutionary roadmap. There’s not much to decipher since Aline is presented as a woman who wasn’t ever given the opportunity to know or explore herself, which lends Lemercier’s treatment a sort of ponderous, melancholic vibe. Foregoing any real dramatic crescendos, only a day-long stint wandering around Las Vegas serves as her acting out moment. With various liberties taken, Lemercier does highlight significant chapters, such as performing “My Heart Will Go On” at the Academy Awards, an event sweetened as she was assisted by her sole confidante (at least as presented here), a gay make-up artist named Fred (Jean-Noël Brouté), who she bonds with immediately.
The real highlight of Aline, outside of the sheer weirdness of its existence, would be French singer Victoria Sio’s interpretation of several Celine Dion favorites, lending a certain fresh vigor to iconic tracks (a brief aside where Aline switches off her radio when “My Heart Will Go On” blares incessantly speaks more volumes than the dialogue in Lemercier and Brigitte Buc’s script). Lemercier channels Dion’s particular straddling of the sweet and weird, but both as a biopic and a portrait of showbiz, this parallel universe fan fiction isn’t making a definitive statement.