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