In Josephine Mackerras’s French language drama Alice, Emilie Piponnier stars as an ordinary middle-class young mother and housewife who discovers that her husband has been living a double life. The film, which won the SXSW Grand Jury Prize earlier this year, has been a real passion project for Mackerras who also wrote and oversaw every aspect of the production. With next to no money and unable to find a producer with the same vision as her, the filmmaker convinced 22 actors and 27 technicians, who were touched by the story of Alice, to work for free. 

On the surface, Alice Ferrand (Piponnier) appears to have it all. Adored by her husband Francois (Martin Swabey) and envied by their friends for their seemingly perfect relationship, the mother-of-one couldn’t be happier with her lot in life. Alice’s cookie cutter lifestyle starts to unravel when it transpires that Francois has spent all of their savings before disappearing without trace. After doing some digging, Alice eventually discovers that her husband has been paying for sex with a number of escorts for some time.

Desperate, and with nowhere to turn  after her pleas for help are ignored by friends and family, Alice takes the difficult decision to become a high class escort with the help, and some much needed pointers, from a new acquaintance. On his return, a sheepish Francois is puzzled to learn that Alice has found a new position which could help pay off their debts, but still has no idea of the nature of this new lucrative post.

Mackerras offers a story which sits proudly, and rather comfortably, between social realism and melodrama. She presents a gripping and decidedly engaging narrative which is never afraid of using artifice in order to advance the storyline. Broaching the subject of prostitution and its consequences on both sex-workers and the men who use them, Mackerras is able to convey a commendably nuanced storyline with no judgement or preconceived notions.

Emilie Piponnier gives an impressive turn as Alice, a woman who finds empowerment in the most unlikely place. Offering Francois as self-centred and weak-willed, Martin Swabey does a great job in conveying the thought-process behind coercive behaviour and sex addiction.

Alice offers a strong female empowerment narrative and two great central performances courtesy of Piponnier and Swabey. Mackerras has given us a film which isn’t afraid to wear its heart plainly on its sleeve from offset. A truly remarkable first feature from a filmmaker who clearly knows her craft inside out.

Alice will screen at the Edinburgh International Film Festival on Saturday 29th of June at 20:55 and Sunday 30th at 11:00 am.