It is the first feature film by young French director Chloé Mazlo. She takes us to the country of her origins, Lebanon. The film begins in the 50s, Alice is a young Swiss au pair who discovers when arriving in Beirut, the heat and the colors of the Mediterranean. And who falls in love with the country, and especially with Joseph, an astrophysicist, dreamer and poet, but determined to send the first Lebanese rocket into space.
Around Alice and Joseph revolves a whole family in which she quickly feels at home. They are warm, welcoming, like Lebanon, a little fantasized about by the director. Her grandparents told her a lot about their country and the character of Alice is directly inspired by her grandmother’s story. Chloé Mazlo even says she nostalgia for this time that she did not know. It thus poses the question of the transmission of family memories and feelings.
But in 1975 the civil war arrives and the mildness of the first years gives way to the clashes and misfortunes of “events”. A war that only appears in the background, or in a very symbolic way. This is the bias of Chloé Mazlo. Show the civil war only through its consequences on Alice’s family, on the break-up between those who choose to stay and those who leave.
It is therefore the family as a microcosm revealing the tragedy of a country, itself embodied by a very metaphorical dancer with a cedar-shaped dress. Everything is close to the tale, and evokes the recent past of Lebanon with great modesty.
But the film keeps a light and whimsical tone throughout. It’s a very inventive film in form, coupled with a dreamlike dimension that leaves room for the imagination. She uses a variety of techniques for this: drawing, painted decorations, small stop-motion animated figurines. This allows him to approach serious and heavy themes with a lot of restraint and delicacy. And the film is shot on 16mm film, which gives an old-fashioned and a little melancholy side to the image, and brings it closer to a photo album with acidulous and faded colors at the same time.
Apart from Alice, all the actors are Lebanese, and they literally replayed the history of their country with a lot of emotion, especially since the news caught up with the film. And on the set, the latest events in Lebanon resonated strangely with those of 40 years ago… Joseph is played by the playwright Wajdi Mouawad, known for having written and adapted for the cinema his play “Incendies”. It goes for the first time in front of the camera; and he gives Joseph a soft and utopian side. Alice is Alba Rohrwacher, as blonde and luminous as he is dark and reserved. And together they form a lunar couple, modest and wildly romantic.
But the film extends until the 80s and when their own daughter chooses exile, it is she – the foreigner – who paradoxically will have the most difficulty in accepting it.
Chloé Mazlo’s movie “Under Alice’s Sky” is hitting theaters today.
Chronicle produced in partnership with SIGNIS Cinéma.