CANNES, France – The Cannes Film Festival is said to be a sacred temple of cinema, a place where sober works by the most esteemed directors are unveiled for the first time. But every now and then something completely eccentric creeps through, a film so different from anything else in Cannes that it feels out of place … that is, until it steers so hard into its eccentricity that it somehow gets back into the Auteurism returns.
These unusual films are often my favorite festival experiences, and that’s why I have to tell you about “Aline”, a wild Celine-Dion biopic that was shown in Cannes on Tuesday night and the audience giggled. Let me get that out of the way for a moment: I’m still wavering from the instantly iconic decision of 57-year-old actress and film director Valérie Lemercier to play Celine Dion at any age of her life, even as a 5-year-old -old child.
You see a lot of annoying things in Cannes, but that certainly takes the cake.
“Aline” begins with a small disclaimer, as the opening title card explains: “This film is inspired by the life of Celine Dion. It’s a work of fiction, however. ”For this reason, although the story follows almost every element of Dion’s life, the main character is named Aline Dieu and most of Dion’s best-known songs failed to get the rights. (Yes, “30 Rock” fans, we are dealing with a Jackie Jormp-Jomp situation.)
Like Dion, Aline is born into a large Quebec family where she is the youngest of 14 children. Her public debut as a singer comes early: At the age of 5, Aline enters the stage at her brother’s wedding and lets go with an incredibly powerful singing voice. Dion did, too, but I suspect there was one crucial difference in real life: when 5-year-old Celine sang at that wedding, she wasn’t wearing the face of an AARP-enabled adult.
Shrunk to hobbit size and almost forgotten, Lemercier scurries, cleans and unsettles. I’ve never seen anything like it: not “PEN15”, not John C. Reilly at the beginning of “Walk Hard”, not even a full-grown Martin Short who plays a psychotic 10-year-old in “Clifford”. As a cinematic presence, Preteen Aline looks less like our main character, but more as if she were ready to terrorize Vera Farmiga in the next “Conjuring” film.
Why didn’t they just cast a real kid? I am told that as a French comedian, Lemercier often played children, but “Aline” goes a few steps too far here: the film is like “Bohemian Rhapsody” when they shrink Rami Malek and let him play with his own teeth. Have you seen those Twitter prompts asking you to remake a classic movie that replaces a character with a muppet? “Aline” reminded me, except that the main character is the Muppet and instead of felt is made of your nightmares.
You might be thinking, “Well, that crazy 5-year-old part of the movie sure doesn’t last very long.” You are right, because the film finally brings Aline to 12 years old. Here Lemercier plays Aline as a lanky introvert who goes to fame after signing with a manager, Guy-Claude Kamar (Sylvain Marcel). The character is based on Dion’s own producer manager René Angélil, whom she met as a teenager and eventually married, and Lemercier calls this troubled pairing Aline’s greatest wish in life.
In practice, that means we watch a 57-year-old play a 12-year-old who has a crush on her 40-year-old manager. I just don’t know what to do with it! Every time Aline’s mother tried to disconnect and said Guy-Claude was way too old for Aline, I felt like my brain was short-circuited.
Is Lemercier trying to sanction the romance by playing Aline himself, suggesting that the young woman was simply an old soul? I’m not sure this is haunted because by the time Aline grew up (when she and Guy-Claude finally settled their relationship), Lemercier still played her as a sugar-loving, child-like diva.
At some point you just have to surrender to the absurdity of “Aline”, and at least that sense of humor sometimes comes from a knowing place, like when Aline starts her residence in Las Vegas and gets lost in the huge mansion she just bought. After the central romance of the film has been resolved in the first hour, “Aline” simply skims over Dion’s adult life for independent episodes: She picks out a dress for the Oscars! She’s taking fertility treatments! Guy-Claude now has a ponytail!
But even the more straightforward dramatic scenes in the film are still marked by a bit of madness. It’s almost no different: after half an hour of Preteen Aline, nothing feels normal anymore.
And maybe “Aline” should be like that. Cultural personalities are hardly more mainstream than Celine Dion, but even their biggest fans would admit that the woman radiates pure lager. I can’t explain half of the directing decisions on “Aline”, but at least they’re so silly and distinctive that I’ll be thinking about them for years to come. Palme d’Or, damn it: At a time when musical biopics are becoming more and more disposable, I know that “Aline” will always go on.