Mother knows best is the saying, but sometimes she doesn’t. In a world of actions and reactions, a mother does her best.
So, in Josephine Mackerras’ debut film Alice, the titlular character, played by Emilie Piponnier, is a mother and wife who suddenly discovers that her seemingly perfect husband, François Ferrand (Martin Swabey), has built up a tremendous amount of debt by using all her family money on high-end escorts. Following her husband’s abrupt disappearance, Alice finds out that she’s on the verge of losing her apartment. Ironically, due to all of the external stress, she becomes a high-end escort herself in order to save her apartment and raise her son, Jules Ferrand (Jules Milo Levy Mackerras).
The film tackles a lot of noteworthy themes, from the sacrificial nature of motherhood, to the reality that society values the appearance of things rather than their essence. It comes as no surprise, for instance, that Alice decides to commodify her body so that she can care for her son. This option may raise some eyebrows, but ultimately we don’t castigate her because we know that a mother will always prioritize her offspring; we understand her ultimate goal.
And here is where we are confronted with a great paradox: a mother is supposed to be self-sacrificial for her children, but the moment she becomes a commodity, she also becomes a bad maternal figure according to societal rules. Give your life and you’re golden. Give your body and you’re doomed. It’s this hypocrisy that Mackerras is trying to uncover; the evaluation of motherhood based on actions that a woman is forced to do without acknowledging the limited resources she has within the bounds of a patriarchal society.
As it is to be expected, therefore, every lawyer in the city advises her to steer clear of a court for child custody because that would lead to an automatic defeat. It is of no real consequence that her husband cheated on her repeatedly losing every penny in the process; there’s no tangible proof, so there’s no accountability. Alice, on the other hand, has an incriminating phone. A phone that deems her unworthy of the role ‘mother’ in a judicial context, even if she did it for her son. Alice would be scapegoated, even in the absence of a scarlet letter, to protect the very principles that victimized her.
The film undoubtedly sheds light on many issues that we don’t dare fix because that would mean we’ve wasted time on the wrong side of the tracks, but it also does so in a way that’s not entirely profound. For example, there are several stories out there that depict this particular narrative: a mother is forced into prostitution to raise her children.
Another concern regarding the film has to do with Alice herself; she led a life of blissful ignorance prior to François leaving her, and that can make an audience feel a bit uneasy. We have to put a bit of an effort to get on board with her in the beginning because at the end of the day she wasn’t independent. Perhaps, however, that’s a point that Mackerras is trying to make: that a 21st century audience will wince at a woman that has no financial control, and that perhaps such a reaction is prejudiced; the film is a bit unclear on that regard.
In all fairness, however, Mackerras gives us some well-deserved cathartic moments, when Alice manages to transcend societal limitations, and has her son by her side. Under the sun with her son, Alice feels free.