Synopsis: Thirty-year-old Alice is a sailor about to embark on a journey she will not soon forget. Leaving her fiancé Félix ashore, she joins the crew of an old cargo ship, the Fidelio, as a mechanic. Once on board, Alice discovers that she is replacing a man who has just died and that Gaël, the first great love of her life, is the ship’s captain.
Lulled by life aboard the ship and entranced by the limitless horizon of the wide open ocean, Alice succumbs to desire and begins an affair with Gaël. But she soon faces a difficult choice about what will make her truly happy: an unfettered life at sea, or grounded happiness at home?
Lucie Borleteau’s provocative and sensuous directorial debut brings to the screen a powerful female protagonist in an almost exclusively male world, while Arianne Labed’s fearless performance as Alice reveals a confident, independent woman fully in command of her own sexuality, grappling with conflicting desires.
eyelights: its strong female protagonist. its sexy bits.
eyesores: its tepid romantic entanglements.
“What happens at sea, stays at sea.”
I”m a big fan of female characters who are essentially the same as male characters but with the genders reversed. Ever since I was blown away by Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor in ‘Terminator 2‘, I’ve been drawn to and sought out strong female characters.
This even applies to my love life: I tend to fall for self-realized women, women who are trailblazers, who are independent, willful, intelligent, crafty, and successful. I like softness, but I desire, even need, the edge that makes those women special.
So, naturally, I very much appreciated Alice, the protagonist of ‘Fidelio, l’odyssée d’Alice’, Lucie Borleteau’s 2014 debut feature film: If you described the character without mentioning her gender, most people would assume that she’s a dude.
But, obviously, she’s not.
I like that.
Though your traditional male character isn’t especially admirable, I like that the tables are turned so fully here (what’s good for the goose, as they say…). Basically, Alice isn’t perfect or remarkable, but she’s only as flawed as any similar male figure.
Alice is an engineer on the Fidelio, a large cargo ship. Though she has a boyfriend, she’s away at sea for extended periods of time and feels no qualms taking lovers on the ship or at port. In fact, she doesn’t get why a woman would only have one man.
This time, however, she bumps into Gaël, a former lover from when they were cadets on the very same vessel – in an earlier incarnation, as the Eclipse. Now he’s Captain and, try as she might, she can’t keep away from him; soon they renew their bond.
They both have partners waiting for them, which makes their trysts much more enjoyable. But Gaël is about to get divorced and Alice’s boyfriend, Felix, discovers her infidelity, putting Alice in a bit of a bind – especially since she truly loves and wants Felix.
Though the plot isn’t memorable, what makes the picture enjoyable is the fact that this little woman runs crews on the ship, and is so competent that she eventually gets promoted to Chief. She’s a gritty, hard-working, capable engineer who knows her ship.
In another life, in a different era, she probably would have been a mousy maid, a highly-forgettable person who disappears in the background. Here, she’s running the show and proving herself time and time again. I very much like that about her.
There aren’t enough female role models like her – you know, who aren’t a girlfriend, a spouse, or a mother to a male lead. Women are often still relegated to reductive parts in grandiose plays. Or they’re given unrealistic, unrelatable superheroine roles.
Alice is a real woman.
And she can hold her own on a ship full of boys. She can match their crude talk and behaviour without being crass. And when one of them tries to take advantage of her in the cover of darkness, she cleverly gets the upper hand over him and destroys him.
Alice kicks @$$.
But she’s a flawed gem. She cheats on her boyfriend. She sleeps with an underling. She’s a person driven by desires and passions that sometimes make her do stupid things, like slipping in her duty. And she’s not honest about it with the people that matter.
Having said this, she’s also honourable: there’s a subplot about her predecessor, who dies on the job, and his personal affairs, which she rummaged through, learning about him and herself in the process. She arranged for the return of his journal to his family.
She’s also extremely understanding of Felix’s uncertainty about their arrangement and his own exploration. And when their relationship is in doubt, she reasserts her commitment to it; she knows what matters to her and is willing and capable of fighting for it.
As can be expected, given that the picture was made by a woman, I loved the sex scenes: watching Alice masturbating in her cabin was pure delight, and her first hook up with Gaël consisted of him going down on her in his cabin. It made me wish that I was there.
Hot, hot, HOT.
But most of the picture consists of the everyday activities of the Fidelio crew, from morning to night. We spend time with them as they have breakfast, work, have fun at night, and party when they get to port. It’s realistic but not exactly enthralling.
Still, ‘Fidelio, l’odyssée d’Alice’ is a solid debut by Borteleau and it stands out because of Alice, who is a rare treat – a fictional female character who is modern, emancipated and equal to her male counterparts. Her personal odyssey is one worth experiencing.
I will no doubt see this again someday.
Date of viewing: July 21, 2017