Éric Rohmer, the king of “talkies,” helped give French cinema its all-talk, no-action reputation. Most of his quiet, charming movies were filled with intellectual discussions about the politics of love, with little actual lovemaking. Now, one of Rohmer’s favorite actors, Fabrice Lucchini, having aged by a few decades, is back in Nicolas Pariser’s second feature film, Alice et le Maire (Alice and the Mayor), a politicized version of a Rohmer film.
Lucchini plays Paul Théraneau, a long-time Socialist mayor of Lyon with presidential aspirations who has run out of fresh ideas. What to do? This is France, so he hires an intellectual (imagine Trump doing such a thing?), Alice Hermann (Anaïs Demoustier), a young woman fresh out of Oxford whose job description is simple but distressingly vague: feed new ideas to the mayor.
Alice starts out by sending him a memo on a concept foreign to most politicians (especially to the aforementioned president and his political clones around the world): modesty.
The mayor is intrigued by the idea and charmed by Alice, a self-possessed young woman if ever there was one. Expanding her duties beyond their discussions of ideas, he throws her into the melee of local politics, valuing her opinions over those of his previously trusted advisers while continuing to demand new ideas from her and cultivating a friendship that includes late-night visits and phone calls. He recognizes in her a fellow political traveler who doesn’t have much of a personal life.
Contrary to expectations, there is not a hint of MeToo-ing here, just as there is no actual sex in Rohmer’s films, only a warm, idea-based connection between two human beings. That’s what gives the film its charm.
Alice et le Maire is also a primer in the world of French politics. Non-French viewers may not always understand it, but we can all feel the joy when a plan for a major celebration of the city’s history, put together by an expensive, arrogant marketing man, is dumped by the mayor when Alice makes it clear to him that it is an empty exercise in puffery.
Lucchini, as always, is excellent and often touching as a mayor who takes advantage of his privileges but has managed to retain his compassion. He carries this quiet film to its wistful conclusion.