VOD film review: Fidelio, Alice’s Journey
Josh Slater-Williams | On 03, Oct 2015
Director: Lucie Borleteau
Cast: Ariane Labed, Melvil Poupaud, Anders Danielsen Lie
Watch Fidelio, Alice’s Journey online in the UK: Curzon Home Cinema / Apple TV (iTunes) / TalkTalk TV / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play
Undoubtedly the sexiest film set on a freighter since Captain Phillips, Fidelio: Alice’s Journey, the French feature debut of actress-turned-writer-director Lucie Borleteau, is a riveting exploration of sexual relationships, everyday sexism, and seafaring struggles (with a touch of sex).
The magnetic Ariane Labed (best known to arthouse-inclined Brits for Alps and Attenberg) is the eponymous Alice, an experienced mechanic with the Merchant Marine and in a loving relationship with landlocked Scandinavian Felix (Anders Danielsen Lie, of Oslo, August 31st). Early on, she’s called in to replace a fatally injured engineer aboard the cargo ship Fidelio, forcing her romance to become a long-distance setup of Skype sex talk and coded emails (because anything sent to the ship has to be read by the higher-ups first).
The lone female onboard the Fidelio, Alice becomes a much tougher presence on the water than the silly, smitten woman Felix tends to see, fending off inappropriate advances from certain crew members pretty much immediately after arrival. Occupying the room of the late colleague she’s replaced, reading his left-behind journal seems to set something off in her that resonates deeply – the mix of intimacy and surprising carnality in the words, combined with the man’s sudden, cruel demise. The frustrating nature of the long-distance relationship doesn’t help with reigning in her desires, nor does the fact the Fidelio’s captain, Gael (Melvil Poupaud), is someone she hooked up with as a cadet years ago. As seems almost preordained to happen, an arrangement of further hooking up ensues.
Among Borleteau’s previous credits as an assistant director and story collaborator is some work with Claire Denis and one can see a shared interest in sensual body language as communication tool between the two female filmmakers; words are less frequent, but Labed’s physical gestures, however slight, get across a wealth of information. Much like with some of the best of Denis, this is a film where the love-making sequences actually convey character insight. They’re intense and fairly graphic, but never linger for mere titillation; they’re frank, but reserved in their cutting.
In more conventional films about fidelity, unfaithful partners tend to be cast as villains or receive considerable karmic punishment. Here, the lead makes clear distinctions between love and monogamy and the screenplay and direction never judge Alice for her views. Consequently, anyone looking for a definitive, clear-cut resolution regarding a choice of lifestyle may find themselves disappointed with how Borleteau wraps up her story, but her directorial decisions allow for a more honest feel to proceedings (despite some occasional script clunkiness with the less sex-focused plot threads), as well as something more open-ended to please both the optimists and pessimists out there when it comes to considering the nature of desire. Relationships are even easier to capsize than boats; Borleteau’s film has astute comments to say about both possibilities.