The Mind Behind the Wild Céline Dion Semi-Biopic 'Aline' Explains Her Choices

Valérie Lemercier tells Thrillist why she wanted to play Céline Dion as a 5 year old.

aline valerie lemercier
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When Aline was announced as part of the 2021 Cannes Film Festival lineup last June, it immediately was the kind of thing you just had to see. An unauthorized biopic of Céline Dion directed by and starring a French comedian? Sounds pretty wild. What festival goers experienced exceeded expectations. The now-57-year-old Valérie Lemercier not only plays Aline Dieu, a very lightly fictionalized version of the Québécoise chanteuse, she plays Aline Dieu from childhood through adulthood. Not in a Boyhood kind of way—in a Clifford kind of way. Vanity Fair’s Richard Lawson called it “one of the strangest approaches to a biopic I’ve yet seen.” The New York Times’ Kyle Buchanan said it was “instantly iconic.”

Now you can finally see it for yourself when Aline hits theaters this weekend, and, frankly, Aline lives up to all the superlatives it's received. A trip down the uncanny valley to a parallel universe where the singer of “My Heart Will Go On” is not quite herself, Lemercier has centered Aline around the love story between Céline and her late husband, René Angélil, called Guy-Claude in the film and portrayed by Sylvain Marcel. The fact that he began managing Dion when she was 12 before they coupled up when she was 20 is strange and uncomfortable enough, made stranger by the fact that here, the young Aline is played by a 50-something woman. “The first sequence on the bed, I said, ‘Don't forget, we are 55 each,’” Lemercier says over Zoom. "I am three months older than the actor who plays Guy-Claude."

To attempt to unpack what is destined to become a cult classic—but has also already won Lemercier France’s top acting prize, the César award—I spoke with the brain behind Aline.

Why make a movie about Céline Dion?

Lemercier first fell in love with Dion’s music thanks to the singer's 1995 French language record D’eux, but it wasn’t until Angélil’s funeral that she started thinking about making a movie based on the woman’s life. “I saw, as millions of people did, René's funeral on TV, and I was very touched by the new loneliness of singing,” she says. So she decided to make a movie. “I spent a lot of time, night and day, during months and months, watching, reading books about her, but also about Réne, about Mother, who was a very interesting character,” she says. “About also Canadian Québécoise culture.” Some of Dion's siblings have taken issue with the way their family is portrayed. In Aline, the family is comically large and are stuffed into a tiny house. "The movie says how much I admire and love Céline and especially her family and career and everything," Lemercier counters. Lemercier couldn't use Dion's real name, but it's unmistakably the work of a fan. 

Why did Lemercier play Aline as a child?

Without the context of her career, Lemercier’s decision is baffling. With context, it makes a little more sense. Lemercier is best known in France as a stand-up comedian. In a way, this is like if, say, Amy Schumer decided to play Adele in a biopic called Claudele. Lemercier has a history of playing kids in her act, so this is not unusual. Lemercier explains that her face is not superimposed “on the baby body.” It’s all her. Occasionally, when acting against other adults, she is digitally shrunken. Other times, she is surrounded with oversized props as if she were Alice in Wonderland. “When I'm signing the records, they made a big records, I have a big pen,” she says. “When I'm singing, I have a big microphone.”

Her desire to play Aline from 5 through adulthood was based in an oddly empathetic reasoning even though she's playing a child's awkwardness for laughs. “I didn't want to play only the glamorous singer,” she says. “I want to take a part of the growing pains of adolescence, which was my case when I was a small girl and people were laughing about my body, about my nose, about a lot of things.” Her analogy: “If I were a lawyer, I didn't want to send my assistant to do the bad job.”

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And what about Céline Dion's music?

You won’t hear some of the songs you probably most associate with Dion in Aline. There’s no “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” or “That’s the Way It Is.” But really the only song Lemercier mentions that she wanted that she couldn’t get the rights to was “The Power of Love.” She scored other tracks that Dion has performed, including French numbers like "Tellement j'ai d'amour pour toi" and covers like "River Deep, Mountain High." “For me, each song was important to be a step in the love story,” Lemercier says. She was, however, surprised when her producer told her they could use “My Heart Will Go On,” which lead to a scene where Aline poo-poos the track before eventually signing on to perform it. “It's true, that story,” Lemercier says.

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Esther Zuckerman is a senior entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @ezwrites.