Alis conceptually should work like a charm, but in its execution, runs thin after the gimmick fades.
Alis was screened as part of Sheffield DocFest alongside a live Q&A session with director Clare Weiskopf. All words of this review were written entirely by the writers at Cinamore.
Alis, directed by Clare Weiskopf and Nicolas van Hemelryck at its core, should work tremendously.
The idea of interviewing ten young women all from the same impoverished area to talk imaginatively about the same fictionalised character as a way of unifying their experiences, while giving them an outlet to explore their own identity on paper is to be commended.
However, with static camera shots, and the co-directors interfering very clearly in most shots, what should be a brilliant exploration of identity and belonging for the subjects, instead becomes the own directors’ self-expression projected via the film, using the young women as the avenue to do so.
I argue this with the fourth-wall-breaking delivery from the subjects, and the inclusion of the boom mic appearing in the shot, despite the subjects clearly wearing a lavalier mic in later shots.
It is rare for a documentary to be so overtly staged like this, and in doing so it opens itself up to scrutiny as to why the filmmakers chose to film it in this way, and what this achieves for the end story.
Additionally, with limiting camera shots, sticking primarily with a straight-to-camera delivery and a symmetrical background, as if influenced by Wes Anderson, the unique quirkiness that should make Alis stand out is all that keeps us engaged.
So when the novelty wears, as does the illusion of the documentary and the 90-minute runtime feels closer to a two-hour film, rather than the constrained 30 to 45-minute short that I believe would have allowed the piece to flourish as the experimental presentation of female identity, union and the power of imagination.
Ironically for a film that keeps its framing, its story, and its concept to a minimal, its unravelling is when it attempts to break the conventions it constructs for itself.
Though to commend its strengths, the way in which it uses the fictional creation of Alis to explore the subject’s understandings of relationships, love, sexuality, belonging, and discovery is a testament to the filmmakers’ careful decisions in framing the questions in a psychologically careful way as if not to upset, or cause distress to the women given their unfortunate circumstances.
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