If you've ever watched a film where the characters and plot seemed familiar, but you couldn't remember where you'd first heard the story, get ready to have déjà vu all over again. Aline, a film released last November in France that also will be screened this summer in Cannes, is going to ring some bells. This strange "unofficial biography" is clearly about an international French Canadian superstar we all know and love: Céline Dion.
The film's trailer just dropped here in America, and it left me and the rest of the internet agog. Aline follows the meteoric rise to fame of young powerhouse singer Aline Dieu (played by writer and director Valérie Lemercier), who is plucked from obscurity by a much older man, Guy-Claude Kamar (Sylvain Marcel), who becomes her manager. As they begin to work closely together, their relationship develops into more than just that of ingénue and mentor — they grow to be the object of each other's affections, and the attraction threatens to derail both their professional relationship, and her career.
While Lemercier herself has labeled the film "fictional," as well as an "unofficial biography," its parallels to Dion's life are uncanny — from the tight-knit family, to the cosmetic procedures young Aline underwent to become more palatable to the public. Even the hair style of her love interest seems to be directly inspired by Dion's real-life late husband and manager, René Angélil. And if this all feels like conjecture, note that the film also uses numerous songs from Dion's catalogue ("I'm Alive" is featured heavily in the trailer) reinforcing the "inspired by the life of Céline Dion" that quickly flashes across the screen in the trailer.
All of these coincidences beg the question of why Dion herself isn't involved in the film that's so clearly about her — as well as another question which might make that answer clear, one that's a bit pricklier: Why are we, in 2021, glorifying a subordinate/authority relationship which we would these days call the result of grooming? It's as though the work and testimonies of the brave women in the #MeToo movement taught us nothing. The trailer for Aline positions her as a naive, agency-less young woman, who is powerless to the man to whom she owes her career. And though it's impossible to know the circumstances of Dion and Angélil's real life relationship (she's only ever praised him), even from the most optimistic standpoint, Céline and René's relationship is the exception, not the rule.
It's important to evaluate films (even trailers) on what they are, not what they aren't, but it does seem odd that Lemercier chose to illustrate fictional Aline and Guy-Claude as star-crossed lovers enmeshed in the romance of the century. At a time when the stories of pop culture starlets are being revisited through a post-#MeToo lens — from Britney Spears to Courtney Stodden — is this really the story we should be telling? Aren't there enough films in history about young girls falling for older men in power?
In real life, Dion first met René in her native Quebec when she was just 12 years-old, after he was sent a tape of her singing. When Céline turned 18, she and René began to date in secret, shielding their love from those closest to them before coming out publicly as a couple when she was 20. While Céline's relationship with René may have flown largely under the radar in the '90s, I find it hard to believe that such union would stand today. Imagine another overnight success, 18-year-old Olivia Rodrigo, dating a 46-year-old man who played a hand in her success. Twitter would (rightfully) riot.
Dion and Angélil were married when Céline was 26. They remained together throughout his cancer diagnosis in 1999, the birth of children René-Charles in 2001, and Eddy and Nelson in 2010, and the return of his cancer in 2013. When he died in 2016, Céline memorialized him as the great love of her life. And their union could very well have been consensual and legal. But with the careers of young women starting on Disney Channel, TikTok, and other avenues of entertainment, unfortunately it's quite common for that power dynamic to be abused by predatory men working with unsuspecting young girls (and young boys). Whether it's in the everyday workplace, or the entertainment industry, it's inappropriate.
To its credit, Aline does seem (at least in its trailer) to explore some themes of grooming via Aline's mother, who confronts Guy-Claude, telling him "my little princess deserves a prince, not an old prune twice her age, and twice divorced." So, exactly how far will Lemercier go in expounding on the complexity of this power dynamic? The (Cannes) jury is still out on that.