This director-performer plays Celine Dion from childhood to stardom in a new movie – San Gabriel Valley Tribune
Asked about “Aline”, her imaginary biopic of singer Céline Dion, French actress Valérie Lemercier answers in the most French way possible.
“I wanted to make a perfume out of Celine’s life,” she said in a video call from her home in Paris. “She is the real perfume, but I tried to be the perfume in Céline’s life.”
Lemercier, who stars as Aline and directed and co-wrote the film, is best known in France for the quirky characters she’s played in comedies in film, television and on stage.
But while “Aline” got unintentional laughs when it premiered at Cannes in 2021 — more on that in a moment — Lemercier plays her pseudo-Céline directly in the film, which opens Friday, April 8.
For her, Celine Dion’s story is the stuff of some of the singer’s greatest hits. It’s a love story, says Lemercier, describing how she only came to that conclusion after the death of Dion’s husband and manager, René Angélil, in 2016.
“When I saw René’s funeral, I was very touched by this lady,” says Lemercier. “The first steps alone. How will she continue?
Lemercier says she couldn’t help but think about what life would be like for Dion after losing Angélil, a man who had signed her as a client when she was still a child and years later the married in a romance that, to put it mildly, many did not understand.
The next few years she spent watching and reading everything she could find about Dion, and the more she learned, the more she saw a story she could tell.
“I had no idea this love story was so strong, so unique, so special,” she says. “I said, ‘I’m going to make a movie.’
“The love story seems to be the main part of this life”, says Lemercier. “Love story with the mother and love story with him. Because she loved her mother, and she loved this man.
“For me, it was something important, the three main characters.”
In “Aline,” Lemercier plays Dion in every chapter of her life; it’s more literal than you think.
She plays it as a child singing at a family wedding. At the age of 12, she met her manager and future husband for the first time. As a young star, mother and grieving wife approaching 50.
Lemercier was 55 when she shot the film, and it was the visuals of a young girl with an oddly mature face that rocked Cannes last summer. Not that the star and director paid any attention to that response, or even seemed to understand why people found it, well, a little strange.
“I played her early because at 12 she was an adult,” says Lemercier. “She was not shy. She says, “I look like a grandma” when she saw a photo or video when she was 12. And that’s true.
The age change was done with a mix of practical and digital effects. His elementary school desk and childhood bed were oversized props to make Lemercier look small against them. His head and body have been digitally shrunk.
“It’s not my old face put on the baby’s body,” she said. “Not at all. It’s me. I play it with all my body, with all my hands.
“And after they shrink me, my whole body, they can grow the head a bit, because just shrinking to the head would be too small,” says Lemercier.
Remarkably, this plays into “Aline” far less oddly than the descriptions here might suggest. And if we trust the judgment of the French film industry, she received the César for best actress for her performance in the film, which received a total of 10 nominations including best director and best screenwriter for Lemercier.
The art will continue
A movie about Dion couldn’t be done without the music she’s known for. And while the film was not endorsed by Dion or his management, the fact that Dion recorded and performed almost exclusively songs written by other people left the door open for many of Dion’s greatest hits, including ” My Heart Will Go On”, the theme song on “Titanic”. The recreation of performances on huge stages in flashy productions is impressive.
“The one that really, really surprised me was Elvis Presley’s ‘Love Me Tender,'” Lemercier said of a song on his wishlist that arrived. “René, when he was 25, he went to Elvis’ funeral. He was completely crazy about Colonel Parker (Elvis’ manager), who was a model for René.
“Ordinaire”, by Quebec singer-songwriter Robert Charlebois, is heard at the beginning and end of the film. Lemercier says it’s the most important song in the movie for the way it talks about how she imagined Dion felt after losing her husband.
The standard “Nature Boy” also surfaces throughout the film, serving as the theme for “Aline’s” love story.
“It’s in the song,” says Lemercier. “It’s ‘to love and be loved back.’ They could not do without love.
The choice of voice
Lemercier nails Dion’s kind of clumsy intensity on stage, but she didn’t attempt to play her voice. A search of dozens of singers finally landed on young French singer Victoria Sio, whose voice sounds like the one you remember from Dion.
“There were 50 singers with a high level of singing,” says Lemercier. “For example, singers who could sing the very, very difficult song ‘All By Myself.’
Sio ended up recording 16 songs for the film in a month and a half, with Lemercier training her as an actress in the studio.
“I wanted to hear the whole voice,” she explains. “When she cried, she had to cry. I didn’t just want a Celine impersonation parody.
As for his physical performance, Lemercier says he worked to immerse himself in character and channel his passion onstage for concert scenes.
“I never looked in the mirror,” she says. “When I was singing, I was 200% into my songs and very happy doing it.”
Dion has not commented on “Aline”, although a few members of her extended family have criticized the project. Lemercier says she thinks the film is a loving portrayal of a star, and the feedback she’s received from fans so far has been positive.
“I have a special relationship with Celine’s Reddit fan club,” says Lemercier. “They saw the film and they were very happy with it. They know that’s not entirely true, but fans are happy with the movie.
She says she understands Dion might feel uncomfortable watching a movie about her life that isn’t quite how she lived it. However, Lemercier can dream.
“I understand, but I hope that once before I die she can watch it and she can watch it,” she says.