Alice and the Mayor review – can the left survive the crisis of modern politics?

Fabrice Luchini is a fading politician railing against leftwing malaise in Nicolas Pariser’s ambitious, frustrating drama

Nicolas Pariser’s second film is a much-needed attempt to address the woes of the modern left: a conceptual exhaustion in the face of ever-mutating 21st-century capitalism, and loss of connection with its base. But though Alice and the Mayor dances playfully around this predicament, it ultimately flounders. Fabrice Luchini plays Paul Théraneau, the socialist mayor of Lyon, once an ideological big-hitter who now feels like he “stopped thinking 20 years ago”. So he engages 30-year-old philosophy graduate Alice (Anaïs Demoustier) as a futurologist to write him idea-filled memos that will put intellectual lead back in his pencil.

A possible nod, or rebuke, to real-life former Lyonnais mayor (and French interior minister) Gérard Collomb, Alice and the Mayor doesn’t take the May-to-December romance route you might expect and remains commendably focused on diagnosing leftwing malaise. Pariser, who also scripted, teasingly captures the reactive, eternally firefighting madness of the modern political operation (“He’s got five minutes for you in three minutes”), as well as the danger that Alice’s ideas drive will become just another fad. The leads both nail their unease in the maelstrom: Demoustier calmly watchful but tension crimping her lips, while Luchini – in his second recent civic-minded film after 2015’s Courted – often has a taken-aback expression that suggests a man trying to locate a marble rattling around in his own head.

But the film hits the same stumbling block the third Bill and Ted film did with the song that will save the world: the propositions seem so flaccid. The only one of Alice’s memos referred to in detail proposes that the modern socialist be “modest” and not abandon themselves to ambitious but vapid rhetoric. Elsewhere, she is enchanted by a traditional print-maker who bemoans the town hall’s lack of respect for history. Fair enough – but it basically amounts to the same complacent navel-gazing into which current leftwing movements often dissipate. Is the idea of a world network of progressive cities, laughed out of the film, really that awful? Alice’s disillusionment reflects the stagnation in the real world – but there isn’t a glimmer of an alternative here.

  • Alice and the Mayor is available on Mubi on 7 July.

Contributor

Phil Hoad

The GuardianTramp

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