[Critique] “Arlette”, a project full of pitfalls

In a key scene of the film Arlette, Mariloup Wolfe’s third feature film, Maripier Morin, adorned in a glittering corset, knickers, collar and royal blue cape, is photographed on a throne, scepter in hand. The image, which can be found on the cover of a news magazine, is titled “La culture, c’est moi”, in reference to the apocryphal expression “l’Etat, c’est moi” attributed to Louis XIV.

This anecdote alone could sum up what the makers of the film tried to create: a satire shot through with reference images, in which social criticism is enriched with a good dose of erudition and intertextuality, without losing sight of an audience hungry for laughter and entertainment .

Suffice it to say that they worked hard to dig their own abyss as ambition was huge and full of traps.

Arlette Saint-Amour (Maripier Morin), a designer and fashion magazine editor, is asked by the Quebec Premier to rejuvenate his government’s image. Manipulated like a pawn on a chessboard, she finds herself overnight as Minister of Culture – “minister for nothing”, as we like to remind her in the National Assembly.

Without counting the audacity and determination of the young woman. In just a few months, thanks to her looks and openness, she manages to inspire a genuine enthusiasm for culture, promoting artists and books, regardless of the budget, neoliberal beliefs and the immense power of her financial peer. Then a merciless struggle begins between two worldviews, two personalities and two generations – a struggle dictated by the power of image and clout.

The premise doesn’t do things by halves to demonstrate the challenges and prejudices faced by a woman projected into a masculine environment while flaunting the absurdities that reign in the political world. That boys clubs, sexism, misogyny, the burden of beauty, neoliberalism, zero deficit, corruption of the elite and artist hypocrisy are addressed at one point or another. The reflections, while interesting, deserve to be dug deeper.

Extravagance versus truth

Filmed in the corridors of the National Assembly, the film tries to embrace superficiality in order to nourish it better, in particular by multiplying the parallels between the political universe of Quebec and the courtyard of the Palace of Versailles or, coincidentally, Buckingham .

Baroque, expressive and grandiose arias by Vivaldi, Bach and others open the scenes; they are crowned – something like Bridgeton, the hit Netflix series – with the imposing and haunting voice of Gilbert Sicotte. The sets and costumes are extravagant. The camera lingers on the grandiose frescoes, multiplies the dizzying long shots and uses the subdued lighting to sublimate the place without, however, allowing the austerity of the Blue Room to be completely forgotten.

The story also struggles to avoid the pitfalls of the cartoon in order to provide the substance and inwardness that would allow audiences to relate to (or at least engage with) the characters’ quest. Even the heroine only has scenes scattered here and there – and all in all not very useful – to give an insight into her background, values ​​and personal life. Ironic for a film that tries to explain the gap that exists between the woman and the politician.

People’s choice

Despite everything, Mariloup Wolfe manages to immortalize moments of truth in his direction and to highlight the talent of actors of the caliber of Paul Ahmarani, Antoine Bertrand and Benoît Brière. In the title role, Maripier pulls Morin out of the game and displays a naturalness that overshadows the woman behind the actress.

However, this deletion is short-lived. Once the credits wrap and attention returns to the star, it’s difficult not to see the character of Arlette as a mirror held up to the actress – who has been a target of accusations in recent years in retirement sexual harassment, physical assault and racism – as well as society.

By putting the actress’ talent above her personal story, the production deliberately asks the audience: Can we separate the art from the artist? We’ll see the answer in space.

Arlette

★★ 1/2

Drama by Mariloup Wolfe. With Maripier Morin, Gilbert Sicotte, David La Haye, Paul Ahmarani. Canada, 2022, 118 minutes. indoors

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