Not anymore a beautiful, maidenlike, housewife

By Chissana Magalhães

A vide de Alice

It’s impossible to watch Alice (2019), by Josephine Mackerras, and not be immediately reminded of Louis Buñuel's Belle de Jour. The surrealist classic that revealed Catherine Deneuve to the world is not only a reference to the situation of the married bourgeois woman who is committed to prostitution, but also because of the resemblance of blonde Emilie Pipponier to young Catherine Deneuve. However, if in Belle de Jour we had prostitution as an escape from a life of boredom and with an absurd cut in the face of the fact that Séverine (Deneuve's character) guaranteed material comfort, Alice is already “compelled” to this life for the total loss of the home provider and his own finances. François, her husband, bankrupts the family by resorting to luxury prostitutes. It is then that Alice finds in the sale of her body a chance to save the house, her only assets, and to secure her child.

A movie slogan says: She did everything right until everything went wrong. In fact, the beginning of the movie shows us Alice as the perfect wife, the "beautiful, modest and homey". It does everything “right”. In other words, it embodies what patriarchal society expects and values in a woman: beauty and youth, motherhood, caring for the home and a caring husband. Thus, the husband's behavior and its consequences emerge as an “unmerited punishment”, or at least make us question whether this context presented to us is worked towards making us more sympathetic to the choice of Alice and to her. “Sorry” (as if we had to). Alice never seems to have a moralistic attitude towards the proposal and the implementation of her prostitution. After some initial nervousness, she embarks on her new profession with ease and even commitment. There is, as is common in films about women who pursue prostitution, no disenchantment with this life. She is glamorized and this glamor gives way to misfortune, violence or any other inconvenience, except for the difficulty that night activity entails with regard to child care and a sporadic encounter with a bizarre client, who yields a of the various scenes where suspense is exemplarily worked.

In the end, Alice chooses her destiny, leaving us with the relief that we are not facing a woman who conforms to the expectations of the retrogressed patriarchy, while at the same time the film leaves open to multiple readings the path she will follow.