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‘Aline’ is a cinematic love letter to Celine

Hau Chu

THE WASHINGTON POST – We need to talk about Aline. More specifically, we need to talk about that face.

If you watch the movie Aline – described in its trailer as “a fiction freely inspired by the life of singer Celine Dion” – all you’ll be able to think about is the face.

It’s the face of French director, writer, co-producer and star Valérie Lemercier, who plays the titular Aline Dieu, a French Canadian chanteuse whose life tracks with that of Dion, with a few creative liberties.

Not only does Lemercier, who is 58, portray a fictionalised adult version of the charming, hammy stage prowler with legions of adoring fans around the world – Dion recently turned 54 – but she also plays Aline as the 20-year-old winner of a Eurovision-style music competition.

Lemercier even appears as the budding musical prodigy at ages five and 12 – achieved through some CGI and a camera trick called forced perspective.

It is, to put it mildly, weird.

Valérie Lemercier (L) and Sylvain Marcel in ‘Aline’. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

But many music biopics are fairly pro forma, so kudos to Lemercier for trying something… different. Whether that something works depends on your ability to refrain from doubling over with laughter in the first hour or so of the movie.

Intriguingly, the film was nominated for 10 César Awards – the French Oscars – garnering a win for Lemercier’s performance. Lemercier is known for her comedic roles, in which she has pulled off this visual trick of playing all ages before, and she has defended the choice in interviews.

However, it’s a strange direction for Aline, which is only nominally a comedy and plays more like a straight-faced devotional to its subject.

Even before her 1997 hit My Heart Will Go On, Dion was dismissed as a melodramatic Vegas balladeer. And maybe there’s something to that. Then again, how could anyone with a heart deny the appeal of the singer’s willingness to surface the unvarnished, universal sentiments of love and longing?

Beyond Aline’s visual incongruities, there’s a problem with is its choice of focus. Almost as if by accident, Lemercier lands on an interesting thread or two here and there: the child star who has known nothing but glamour coming to terms with her cloistered existence, or the concert in which vocal cord issues force Aline to stop singing Pour Que Tu M’aimes Encore, only to hear the audience finish the chorus for her. But there’s no deeper interrogation of those themes. Lemercier leaves it to your (presumed) love of Dion to fill in the blanks.

There could have been a more interesting movie here: one that explored Dion’s status as a star whose global appeal elicits barely ironic tweets and articles claiming her as Jamaican or Nigerian. As a child, I recall that my own Vietnamese father and his friends couldn’t get enough of Dion.

Unfortunately, Lemercier is overly enamoured with – to the point of romanticising – what is objectively one of the strangest details of Dion’s biography. That’s the singer’s relationship with her late husband, René Angélil, whom she met as a 12-year-old, when he was her 38-year-old manager. (In the film, Sylvain Marcel plays manager Guy-Claude Kamar.) By many accounts, Angélil, whom Dion married at 26, was the love of her life. (No moral judgements, but one might be forgiven for inserting a thinking-face emoji here.)

What we’re left with is a film about a protagonist whose inner life is largely speculative, apart from a career motivated by love. That narrative, which takes up most of the film, is a little formulaic: Guy-Claude sculpts a pop icon out of a gawky preteen over the objections of Aline’s mother, who relents when she realises their budding romance is genuine. There is some drama and a struggle with infertility, but the death of Guy-Claude feels oddly shrugged off – an obstacle to be overcome through music, family and love.

For better or worse, it’s the same pat formula you might encounter in, well, a Celine Dion song.