Aline Celine Dion biopic film movie

Celine Dion biopic Aline is a journey beyond all cinematic taste

“There were reportedly no boos at the Cannes premiere; I was there and was far too shocked to verbalize my dismay. Perhaps others were, too.”

It is a scene out of a horror film. A shy five-year-old climbs on stage to sing at a rural Québécois wedding. Her voice is strong beyond her years, but then you realize that her face is older, too, by approximately 50 years. Your dread will increase as you understand that this film is not another Chucky sequel — it’s Aline, an adoring, maudlin and creepy unofficial biopic of Celine Dion, directed by French comedienne Valérie Lemercier. The director, who is 57, stars as the singer, here named Aline Dieu, at the age of 5, then 12, then as a young adult and into the present. Lemercier cavorts from stage to stage in glamorous outfits, re-tuning anti-aging CGI effects and lip-syncing to the voice of French singer Victoria Sio.

Aline closely follows the life of Celine Dion, from growing up as the youngest of 14 children in a musical Québécois family, to performing “My Heart Will Go On” at the Oscars. As the opening credits affirm, Aline is fiction; Celine Dion, whom the director never met, had nothing to do with this movie. It is not an in-depth musical biography — the creators could not acquire rights to many key songs in her repertoire. Nor does it explore a woman’s rise to stardom in the music industry. Instead, it focuses on Aline’s May-December relationship with her manager, and senior by 40 years, Guy-Claude Kamar (Sylvain Marcel), based on Dion’s own manager-husband René Angélil. This problematic union was largely about power and money in real life. The film turns it into a love-conquers-all fairy-tale, with extra sugar added via a fictional romantic marriage proposal in an Italian gelato shop. Lemercier and Marcel are actually exactly the same age. But emotionally Aline remains the helpless 12-year-old she was when she met Guy-Claude, completely reliant on him and her mother (Danielle Fichaud) to organize her life. In the age of #metoo, one wishes Lemercier would have taken her artistic licence in another direction. 

Being a good Québéquoise, I went to see this out-of-competition entry, the only Canadian production in the official selection (co-produced with France). Marc-André Lussier of La Presse reports that there were no boos at the press screening; I was there and was far too shocked to verbalize my dismay. Perhaps others were, too. I left the theatre wondering, why? Why not a child actress? Why this movie? Why at Cannes? Is Thierry Frémaux a closet Celine Dion fan? Is Wild Bunch taking over world distribution? (Aline was co-produced by Gaumont, another industry heavy-hitter at Cannes.) Passive Aline looks out of place among the fierce women headlining Cannes news this year, from the honorary Palme d’Or awardee Jodie Foster to British director Andrea Arnold, who leads the Un Certain Regard jury. To this power roster we must now add Valérie Lemercier, whose influence in the French media world must be huge to have amassed a 23-million-euro production budget and then muscled her way into the Cannes lineup with this faux biopic.

Celine Dion biopic Aline: Why? Why not a child actress? Why this movie? Why at Cannes?

The star-struck director aimed to produce a movie that her idol would like, without any humour or satire. At the Cannes press conference, Lemercier confessed that during her first comedy show in Quebec, at the age of 26, the entire audience walked out. But with the exception of one scene, where arrogant Montreal TV hosts ridicule Aline, the film revels in local accents and customs, with several Quebec actors portraying Aline’s entourage. And this earnest homage hit the right note with Celine Dion fans at Cannes.

Quebec reviews could not be more celebratory. (The New York Times was less enthusiastic.) At the premiere, the cast, including Quebecers Marcel, Fichaud and Roc Lafortune (who plays Aline’s father), received a five-minute ovation. During the press conference, several journalists averred that this “masterpiece” left them in tears. If anything, the premiere of Aline demonstrated that the Cannes Film Festival, allegedly the arbiter of cinematic taste, subsists on a good dose of schmaltz. And schmaltz, according to Carl Wilson’s celebrated analysis, is the defining quality of Celine Dion’s music. ■

Aline, the unofficial Celine Dion biopic, directed by Valérie Lemercier

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