Fidelio, Alice's Odyssey


Reviewed by: Rebecca Naughten

Fidelio: Alice's Journey
"We see events from Alice's perspective, meaning that, unusually, she is positioned more as the desiring subject than the desired object within the narrative."

Alice (Ariane Labed) is a merchant sailor and the replacement second mechanic onboard Fidelio, an ancient and creaking freighter, after a member of the existing crew dies at sea. An original aspect to Lucie Borleteau's directorial debut is that although her heroine works in an otherwise all-male environment, the film is not about Alice fighting for recognition in a man's world - neither her right to be there, nor her competence at her job, is questioned by her male colleagues. Instead it shows a woman on a journey of sexual adventures, setting her own rules, and living her life as she sees fit.

Within this male universe Alice is absorbed into the camaraderie of the group and its culture - she goes out on the pull with the men when the ship berths, and they hire a male prostitute for her birthday - but she also remains an outsider looking in (as in the sequence where she looks through a cabin window at the men enthusiastically watching porn together). Alice - played by Labed with insouciant grace and an impish grin - is unashamed of her desires, and is frank with her colleagues about her sexual conquests. Although the film shows the usual lack of parity with regards to onscreen nudity - Labed bares considerably more flesh than Melvil Poupaud or Anders Danielsen Lie as the main men in Alice's life - we see events from Alice's perspective, meaning that, unusually, she is positioned more as the desiring subject than the desired object within the narrative.

Copy picture

That is not to say that the character exists in a utopia - one colleague interprets Alice's laid back attitude to mean that he can take what he wants of her, and creeps into her room at night, managing to strip her before she wakes up sufficiently to fight him off. She takes a no nonsense approach, calmly thinking the situation through and then dealing with him without recourse to any of the other men. In fact, the threat she levels at him involves what she will tell other women in the Merchant Navy - one of several instances where female solidarity puts in an appearance in this strongly male environment.

To give shape to her heroine's voyage of self-discovery on the high seas, Borleteau utilises a voiceover in the form of the deceased mechanic's diary, discovered by Alice in his cabin (now hers) and which she proceeds to read. As they shared a profession, Alice finds points of connection with Patrick's accounts of repairs on the ailing ship but also begins to view her own life through the prism of his recorded loneliness, sexual liaisons and sense of shame over the lack of love in his life. In contrast, Alice is wary of love and tries to track a course between the man who waits patiently for her onshore (Danielsen Lie) and the old flame/now captain who ignites her passion (Poupaud).

In this hermetically sealed maritime world - the snugness of the ship is emphasised in the persistent wraparound aural backdrop of the sound of the sea alternating with that of the engine Alice works hard to maintain - Borleteau explores the different permutations of fidelity through a female protagonist who is refreshingly unabashed at pursuing what she wants, and whose greatest fidelity is in being true to herself.

Reviewed on: 26 Feb 2015
Share this with others on...
Fidelio, Alice's Odyssey packshot
Alice replaces a recently deceased mechanic onboard Fidelio, an old freighter, and sets off on a voyage of self-discovery.
Amazon link

Director: Lucie Borleteau

Writer: Lucie Borleteau, Clara Bourreau

Starring: Ariane Labed, Melvil Poupaud, Anders Danielsen Lie, Pascal Tagnati, Jean-Louis Coulloc'h, Nathanael Maïni, Bogdan Zamfir, Corneliu Dragomirescu, Manuel Ramirez, Thomas Scimeca, Jan Priva, Luc Catania

Year: 2014

Runtime: 97 minutes

Country: France

Search database:

If you like this, try:

Beau Travail