To Send-Up with Love: Valérie Lemercier on the Making of Her Comedic Celine Dion Biopic

In the bizarre biopic, the filmmaker tells Dion's story with a twist.
Valérie Lemercier Aline Celine Dion Movie

Entering the Discourse is a thrice-weekly column where we dig into who is saying what about new releases and upcoming projects. Today, we share some quotes from Valérie Lemercier on the making of Aline, her fictionalized movie about Celine Dion.

Celine Dion is a pop icon — nay, a pop powerhouse — whose voice has moved hearts for generations. She is a force to be reckoned with, and now French filmmaker Valérie Lemercier (Marie-Francine) has taken on that legendary force with her new movie Aline, which is loosely based on the life of the singer. 

As Lemercier is primarily a stand-up comedian, she decided on a slightly ridiculous route in portraying the life of Aline Dieu, a fictionalized version of Dion. In addition to co-writing and directing the movie, Lemercier also plays the titular character — not only as an adult but even as a child as young as five years old.

To achieve such a feat, Lemercier worked closely with the special effects department. It wasn’t just make-up that transformed Lemercier. Her entire body was shrunk down to really give the appearance of her being a little girl. She discusses the process in an interview included in the press notes for Aline and acknowledges:

“For a long time, we didn’t think it would work…I wanted my entire body to appear on screen, even in the scene where five-year-old Aline sings at her sister’s wedding. The special effects crew did a remarkable job.”

That idea brings a flair of the bizarre to the typical biopic format. Think Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story but adhering much closer to a singular person’s life. While names are changed and some events are altered, Aline follows Dion’s rise as a singer and her relationship with her manager, René Angélil, very closely. 

While Lemercier did invent some of the events depicted on screen, such as an escape through the streets of Las Vegas, she wanted to create a film that spoke to the “whimsical” essence of the singer. On the mix of the real and the fictional, Lemercier says in the press notes:

“At first, I called her Céline. [Co-writer Brigitte Buc] convinced me to change the first name. That unblocked everything. Thanks to ‘Aline,’ we let ourselves embroider reality, invent details…to construct this story as exactly as I could but while keeping some distance from her. A few respectful feet away…We asked ourselves all the time: ‘How can we invent as faithfully as possible while keeping the greatest fineness for Celine’s person and the story of her life?’”

In writing the script, Lemercier wasn’t solely interested in comedy, but more in how to preserve the truth of Dion’s life. In the press notes she admits Aline is less of a send-up of the singer than audiences might expect, especially if they’re fans of the real Dion:

“I don’t know what people were expecting. They probably thought I was going to make fun of her…Celine is a bit of a clown. She is the first to parody herself. I’ve even heard that she coaches people who want to imitate her. The movie may actually be more serious than she herself is.”

Lemercier never wanted to try to imitate Dion, though, and never leaned too much into doing an exact accent. Sometimes she found herself going too far with the voice and later even overdubbed it to tone it down.

When asked about her experience playing Dion, Valérie Lemercier told Variety:

“She is funny. She’s never, never boring…she is always funny. She twists everything, even sad things. And she has luck. I didn’t make an imitation of her voice, but her body, yes. I tried to move like her”

Lemercier also explains in the Variety interview that she was able to tap into her own experience with traveling to perform in order to relate to the role she was playing:

“I have spent thirty years on stage so I know, on a small scale, what it’s like. I spent a lot of time in the dressing room, eating my chicken in front of the mirror and spending a lot of time on the road, far from my family. And the loneliness you can feel when it’s finished and the people are gone: this is something I can understand a lot.”

Despite the comedic angle, Dion did actually give Lemercier her blessing to make the movie, as shared with Variety:

“The first thing I did was give the script to her French manager. She read it and said it’s good for Celine; she said it doesn’t mock her. She could see how much I loved her. That was the first thing I did, but Celine didn’t want to read anything. She didn’t see the movie.”

Dion might have been available to the production and the filmmaker/actress briefly, but Lemercier decided ultimately not to meet the singer as part of her research for Aline. She says in the press notes:

“I could have. People suggested it several times. She is very busy, closely surrounded by her entourage, I knew I would have seen her for five minutes before a show, or at a fashion show. What good would that be?”

Although Lemercier got the singer’s approval to make the movie, she couldn’t secure the rights to the songs as sung by Dion herself. Instead, she got permission to use the songs if they were sung by another artist. So while Lemercier is shown lip-synching on screen, we hear the voice of French singer Victoria Sio.

Lemercier says in the press notes that the Dion covers were preferred anyway:

“That was also a deliberate choice: to take a step back, to tell the story of Aline Dieu and not Celine Dion. The intelligence of Victoria’s interpretations amazed me. Since I took liberties with the timelines of certain songs…Victoria could remain closer to the emotional content of each sequence.”

Valérie Lemercier’s Aline recently had its world premiere at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival and has not yet secured US distribution. 

Mary Beth McAndrews: Mary Beth McAndrews thinks found footage is good and will fight you if you say otherwise. When she's not writing, she's searching for Mothman with her two cats. Follow her on Twitter @mbmcandrews. (She/Her)