One of the phrases used most frequently to explain French actor and comic Valérie Lemercier is “kooky”, however even that fails to completely encapsulate the plain weirdness of her newest movie, Aline, simply launched within the UK.
On this imagined biopic of singer Céline Dion, Lemercier, 58, performs the Canadian celebrity in any respect ages, even a baby, baffling and unsettling critics (the Guardian described it as “horrifying”).
Lemercier can not see what the fuss is about. “I actually wished to play her as a baby and why not? I’m at all times enjoying kids in my reveals so it appeared completely regular, although it might sound a bit weird exterior France,” she says.
Not as weird because it may have been. Lemercier says she additionally shot a scene together with her face superimposed on to a child to painting the new child Aline. To her remorse, and maybe viewers reduction, this ended up on the reducing room flooring. “My producer begged me to take it out so I did,” she says ruefully. “We had nice enjoyable creating this phantasm of youth.”
Lemercier is an enormous title in France, the place she is greatest identified for enjoying what they name fofolle – dippy, off-the-wall characters. She has had seven long-running theatre productions, together with one-woman reveals, has gained two Césars, the French Oscars, for greatest supporting actress, and three Molières, the theatre equal. She acts, sings, dances, writes screenplays, directs and has made three singles with different artists, in addition to her personal album.
On its launch final November, Aline was hailed by French critics as “magnificent” and “jubilant and really touching”, and lauded because the actor’s greatest movie to this point, no faint reward given Lemercier has made 36 movies.
Worldwide opinions have been much less reverent: on the 2021 Cannes movie pageant final July, American critics described the film as variously “actually bizarre”, “kooky as hell” and “unusual”. (Aline is due for launch within the US subsequent month.)
The movie follows the rise of the plain however gifted French-Canadian Aline Dieu, who goals of turning into a well-known singer. The teenage Aline – the youngest of 14 kids of humble origins – is found by a musical producer 26 years her senior, who propels her to worldwide stardom with the assistance of great dental work and dance courses (and with whom she falls in love and marries later within the movie).
The opening disclaimer that “this movie is impressed by the lifetime of Céline Dion. It’s, nevertheless, a piece of fiction” is disingenuous – that is Dion’s life story. The celebrity singer was found by supervisor mentor René Angélil when she was 12, and he or she married him aged 26 in 1994 in a lavish ceremony wherein Dion wore a Swarovski crystal headdress weighing 3kg; that is additionally a scene in Aline. 4 years after their wedding ceremony Angélil was identified with throat most cancers. He died in 2016.
Lemercier has by no means met Dion and didn’t have her approval earlier than or since making the movie. The closest she has come to Dion is brushing previous her in a backstage hall. The screenplay was written after analysis and Lemercier says “a sure distance” was most likely a very good factor for the movie, although she says she did attempt to contact the star.
“As quickly as I completed writing the state of affairs the very first thing I did was to point out it to [Dion’s] French supervisor, who learn it in a short time and instructed me she may see that it wasn’t mocking and that I actually appreciated her. I wanted to know that somebody in Céline’s entourage had seen that this movie was well-meaning.”
Once we meet in September final yr she doesn’t know if Dion has seen the movie. “I contacted Céline Dion’s supervisor in Quebec who instructed me that perhaps Céline would see it at some point however she was not considering it. So who is aware of?” The singer’s household have since made it clear they don’t like Aline.
“If I used to be her I’m unsure I’d be speeding to see it, however I hope the message did get by way of to her as a result of I simply need her to know that this movie is a tribute.”
The Lemercier-Dion likeness is uncanny and mesmerising. Lemercier has reproduced Dion’s animated mannerisms, gestures and the well-known Quebec accent. Lemercier additionally heroically lip-syncs her means by way of Dion’s musical repertoire, carried out within the movie by the French-Italian singer Victoria Sio.
Our assembly has been set for noon within the stylish tea room of the Park Hyatt Vendôme Paris lodge, when Lemercier calls to say she is operating late. Her taxi app has crashed so her press attache means that as she shouldn’t be far-off maybe she may stroll. The reply is not any, maybe defined by the truth that when Lemercier arrives she is sporting what appears to be like like a cross between fancy Birkenstocks and furry slippers.
In particular person, aside from the footwear, Lemercier is much much less eccentric than her fame suggests. She is the cliched “humorous lady”: hilarious within the highlight; disarmingly earnest out of it, responding to questions like an examination candidate looking for the precise solutions, which are sometimes left hanging unfinished with a “voilà!”.
A part of her fascination with Dion steps from parallels between the star’s adolescence and her personal, together with the assumption that neither of them “would win a magnificence contest … I do know full effectively that I’ve an odd physique and it’s true that I didn’t really feel I used to be a fairly little lady as a result of no one ever instructed me I used to be. I’ve at all times been bien dans ma peau [comfortable in my skin], however I’m a realist,” she says. “It will need to have been the identical for Céline when she was younger. There’s a scene within the movie when somebody makes a joke that she has an odd face and isn’t very sleek, and I feel Céline will need to have mirrored on that. At first she had all this hair, uneven tooth, an enormous nostril. She will need to have additionally identified [that she wasn’t pretty] …
“For me, for any younger particular person of 18 years beginning out as an actor, after all it’s higher to be a magnificence – but it surely’s not a magnificence contest and plenty of nice actors should not precisely oil work.” She provides: “I used to be loads on this character. One can not make a movie that isn’t about oneself, that doesn’t talk about one’s personal particular person, one’s personal physique. I wished to place a little bit of me in it. It was a part of me, too.”
Lemercier, the second of 4 daughters, says that, like Dion, she grew up in a big household. “Each my grandmothers had 9 kids every, so it was common to have 150 individuals on the desk for household reunions. I used to be two years outdated after I keep in mind making my household chortle and I recall the sensation of nice pleasure that got here from it.”
At 18, she left college, which she hated, and got here to Paris with 1,000 francs (about £100) her father had given her. She took a sequence of short-term jobs, together with working on the fragrance counter within the Galeries Lafayette division retailer, which gave her materials for standup reveals. Her break got here when she was provided a job within the comedy tv sequence Palace.
Dion shouldn’t be the primary actual particular person whose life Lemercier has fictionalised. The 2005 comedy Palais Royal!, which she additionally directed, was very loosely primarily based on the lifetime of Diana, Princess of Wales.
“Although it was largely filmed in England with English cash, it by no means got here out within the UK. It was years earlier than The Crown and again then not many individuals made the hyperlink with Diana in France as a result of individuals didn’t know an excessive amount of about her life. However it was clear to me.”
We shortly set up that Lemercier’s personal life is off limits. She has by no means married, has no kids, however is “not alone”; that’s as a lot as I can squeeze out of her. Later she briefly alludes to a fiance, however gained’t give a reputation. She enjoys cooking, has visited Japan 26 occasions, does “a bit of stitching” and says she loves studying however has no time. “I’ve at all times so many irons within the hearth. It’s been some time since I learn a e-book and I’m unhappy about that.”
Whereas she is reticent speaking about herself, Lemercier seems to have been in a position to make use of Aline to exorcise some private ghosts. Throwaway remarks in interviews counsel the movie allowed her to be “the kid I by no means was” and may clarify her eager to play Dion in any respect ages. However maybe essentially the most poignant sign – and divergence between truth and fiction – is the mother-daughter relationship. Dion is near her mom, performed in Aline as a feisty character anxious to guard her baby by the Canadian actor Danielle Fichaud.
Lemercier doesn’t get pleasure from a detailed relationship together with her mom and says with a nonchalance that appears compelled that her dad and mom are “not a lot ” in her profession. “My mom doesn’t watch the tv and didn’t even know I’d gained a Molière. I feel a pal instructed her the next day. She’s not ashamed, but it surely doesn’t curiosity her. She’s in no way a mom hen like Céline’s mom; fairly the alternative,” she says.
“I’d have appreciated her to be in any other case, however she was, how can I say, much less current. However I’m very near my sisters and now we have a sure solidarity between us to make up for our mom’s absence.”
Lemercier’s forte, for which she is greatest identified in France, is the one-woman present. “I like being the centre of consideration. I do know you’re not imagined to and if you’re younger and also you stand for election as the category pupil consultant, they at all times inform you to not vote for your self. However why not? I used to be introduced up with the concept that you mustn’t draw consideration to your self, that you ought to be discreet, not be too flashy, not put on an excessive amount of make-up. I used to be 10 years outdated after I signed a be aware to my mom promising by no means to put on make-up, and as we speak I can spend two hours in hair and make-up earlier than happening stage.”
She is at present on stage in Paris in a three-person comedy that runs till the tip of Might, however is happy about Aline’s launch within the US, dismissing the snobbery that exists in French tradition over America. “After all Hollywood pursuits me. I’m not an mental. In no way. So it’s nice information the movie is popping out within the States,” she says. “I really like American cinema and I’d like to be a Hollywood star. It could be good to dwell in an enormous home and have my very own dressmaker dwelling in a small home subsequent door. If I used to be richer I’d have somebody making all my clothes and that will be my luxurious – higher than a non-public jet or private cook dinner or workers.”