A Filmmaker’s Journey to the Center of Celine Dion

Born in Normandy, Lemercier moved to Paris at 18, and her career took off in the late 1980s thanks to cameos in the sketch series “Palace.” Her commercial breakthrough came in 1993 with the blockbuster “The Visitors,” which earned her a César for best supporting actress, and she made her feature debut as a director in 1997 with “Quadrille,” an archly stylish, beautifully art-directed adaptation of a Sacha Guitry play.

It was through one of her solo outings, in the mid-1990s, that she was converted to the church of Celine. “I was doing a show at the Théâtre de Paris, and an usher, who was a Celine fan, sang me her songs,” Lemercier recalled. She decided to make a film about the star after spotting her at the funeral for Angélil, who died in 2016. “He wasn’t there anymore, and I wondered how she would cope. It touched me.”

For French viewers, the film’s affectionate tone scrambled their notions of Lemercier and her style. Her humor can be quite dark, especially at the theater, and she gleefully exploits the jarring discrepancy between her elegant, poised appearance — she looked impeccably put together in our video chat — and crude, often scatological jokes. Her satirical barbs have not spared peers like Juliette Binoche, who was once the target of a biting fake commercial.

“Everybody assumed I was going to make a parody, but that was never my plan,” Lemercier said of “Aline.” “I’m not much for tenderness; it really bugs me, generally speaking, and I tend to go more for sarcasm. But this time around — no,” she continued. “I wanted to be sincere, to do an open love letter.” (Some of Dion’s siblings have criticized the film for, among other things, what they felt was a cartoonish portrayal of their family. Early in the process, Lemercier passed on her script to Dion’s French manager, whom she said approved of the tone; a spokesperson stated in an email that “Celine has not seen the movie, nor does she have any comments about it.”)

“There is no condescension, no snobbery in the film,” the musician Bertrand Burgalat, who produced Lemercier’s album, “Chante” (1996), and scored two of her movies, said by email. “She does not treat Celine Dion as a pop object, either, like Jeff Koons did with Cicciolina,” he added, referring to the provocateur artist’s relationship with his former wife and muse.

If there were emotions in need of some untangling, they came more from Lemercier’s conflicted relationship with Quebec, where her first live appearance, in 1990, had turned into a debacle. “Air Canada had purchased all the seats for its employees, who thought they were going to see Claudine Mercier, a Quebecois imitator,” she said. “Everybody got up and left, and I ended the show in front of an empty room. I cried all night. I was wounded. So this movie was a way to return to Quebec with my head held high. Or at least to be better understood there.”

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