Following up on his similarly-themed debut “The Great Game,” director Nicholas Parisier’s “Alice and the Mayor” concerns the political disconnect between theory and practice in a tepid French comedy focused on the mayor of Lyon and his crippling inability to come up with any ideas. As goes with movies of this vein, the politician’s only answer is, of course, to hire a pretty young philosopher, herself at a personal impasse, to rejuvenate his belief in the systems that he is in charge of.
Set around a series of conversations between the titular stars, Parisier’s film positions Alice (César Award-winning actress, for this film no less, Anais Demoustier) as a politically naive recent Ph.D. graduate, unable to figure out what she wants to do with her life. She is, eventually, hired onto Paul Théraneau’s (Fabrice Luchini) mayoral team, with the nebulous job of providing the mayor with inspiration, often in the form of written notes. Théraneau, it appears, has completely lost his ability to think up ideas, admitting that he used to have many a day, but now seems stuck in a rut.
You can probably guess where the rest of the movie is going, as both Alice and the Mayor learn from each other, as Théraneau begins to ramp up a possible bid for the French presidency, and Alice reconnects with previously abandoned friends and learns to be more idealistic, transitioning from skeptic to political believer. Various subplots, concerning the Mayor’s ex-wife and Alice’s former best friend Gauthier (Alexandre Steiger), who was seemingly in love with Alice before being rebuffed, come and go with little consequence, as Parisier appears more interested in the verbal sparring between the main characters.
Yet, that back and forth is often reduced to an escalating series of social improvements, with Alice suggesting some type of altruistic social program, only for Théraneau to lament his inability to implement such an idea, and finally, Alice quoting either Orwell or Rousseau to convince him. “Alice and the Mayor” is in love with its own false sense of moral superiority, unwilling to create believable characters to spout Parisier’s ideological wordplay.
Théraneau is a politician because, as he over-explains at one point, it’s his calling. He can see nothing else for himself, as there’s little depth to him. Alice fares worse, as her life is too ill-defined. She is, eventually, given a romantic interest in an intellectual printer Xavier (Pascal Renéric), whose antiquated lithographic methods seeming to be the sole reason that Alice is interested in him. Instead of any type of interiority, Alice is a cliché. A beautiful young philosopher, wayward in her life, whose existence is to inspire the older white man to think more deeply about society.
When the film finally finds its groove, with the Mayor setting up his presidential run, it appears that “Alice and the Mayor” is going to swing big, taking aim at leftist French politics on a national level, instead of the strangely hermetic previous focus on Lyon. Yet, Parisier only briefly flirts with taking his ideological mouthpieces onto the national stage, before retreating back to false types of character development. Do either of the characters change by the end? Not really, if only because they weren’t realistic, to begin with.
“Alice and the Mayor” isn’t bad, per se; it’s just routine. Not radical enough to be the political call to action that it so desperately wants to be, and not fully developed enough to the character study that it eventually reverts back to, it’s a strange hybrid of a film, with the two disparate sections never really working in conjunction. [C]
“Alice and the Mayor” will have its US premiere on March 7, as part of the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema event in New York City.