Every adult is a reaction to a childhood. Our adult form represents the survival of (or the succumbing to) the traumas and triumphs of our youth. For the bastard-born Martin, that means recovering from his mother sending him at age 10 to live with his father Victor. A gruff, unfeeling man, Victor never gave a hint of harboring any paternal love for his son and, upon Victor's unexpected death, the 20-year-old Martin (Loret) flees. After living briefly in the French countryside and stealing eggs to survive, a shaky Martin arrives in Paris at the flat of his half-brother, Benjamin (the excellent Mathieu Amalric). And it is there that Martin meets his Alice (Juliette Binoche), a survivor in her own right, and steals her away from her platonic relationship with the homosexual Benjamin. Only a few clues are given regarding Alice's distressed beginnings, but any doubts we have regarding her suffering are erased simply by the anguished visage of Alice. Binoche's face is one seemingly crafted to convey pain. It serves her well, as Martin brings her nothing but. Initially she scoffs at his fumbling romantic overtures, but eventually she caves -- ostensibly out of passion, but mostly out of the irrepressible maternal instinct of a woman denied a mothering of her own. In Paris, Martin flourishes for a time in Alice's arms and as an Armani model but collapses when Alice informs the man (still reeling from being a son) that he soon will be a father himself. Martin suffers a nervous breakdown, and Alice must pick up the pieces. Binoche excels as Alice, creating perhaps her strongest role to date, and the fine linings age has brought her only lend a greater sense of tragedy to that face. Unfortunately, newcomer Loret simply does not hold his own. His vapid prettiness serves him well enough during his stint as a model, but when his character starts to break apart, so does Loret's credibility. Although Martin is given by far more exposition and character shadings, he cannot accomplish what Binoche and the subtly devastating Carmen Maura (as Martin's beleaguered stepmother) do with one-eighth the material. Delicately shot by Caroline Champetier in such locales as the Alhambra, the French hillside, and the gloomy Paris Métro and accompanied by a haunting score by Philippe Sarde with a contribution by Jeff Buckley (his voice the aural apotheosis of heartbreak), Alice et Martin
comes so close to rendering real tragedy. And, with its wealth of talented supporting players, it could have, had we been given Alice and Martin's Half-Brother Benjamin,
or Alice and the Put-Upon but Ceaselessly Strong Stepmother of Martin.
Alas, we have Alice et Martin
-- and something that falls just shy of greatness.