Barrage: All about my daughter
by Bénédicte Prot
- BERLIN 2017: Laura Schroeder depicts a trianglular mother-daughter relationship with consummate intelligence, conveying the fluidity of our deepest emotions
Barrage [+see also:
interview: Laura Schroeder
film profile], presented in the Forum section of the 67th Berlinale, tells the story of a homecoming: the journey of a young woman who comes back to her daughter, after letting her own mother bring her up for the child's own good, and who, as suggested by the title (which translates as “Dam”), is finding it hard to once again break down the barriers that have risen up between her absence and the day-to-day life that has been carrying on without her. And so an additional motif in this story of a homecoming is in fact a mother-daughter relationship that is triangular on two levels.
In the spirit of this perfect geometrical pattern, the writer-director, Luxembourg's Laura Schroeder (for whom this is the second feature, following the children's film Schatzritter [+see also:
film profile]), has painstakingly reduced the cast to a bare minimum: three actresses with extremely proficient acting skills, of three different ages (but with closely resembling features that make their family relationship astonishingly plausible), are flanked by just a handful of supporting characters as they dance the intriguing ballet of emotions between the characters, teetering between love and mistrust, turning this triangle into an ever-changing polygon. First of all, there is the young mother, Catherine (Lolita Chammah), who has such a laid-back character that one suspects she has been forcibly pacified, but remains down to earth and impulsive. The little girl, Alba (Thémis Pauwels), has strong self-discipline, thanks to the constant practice imposed on her by her grandmother-cum-coach. We glimpse an incredibly grown-up kind of intelligence in her childish perspective, but she also sometimes drifts through her own little world, on a boat floating backwards on the mirrored surface of a lake. And then there is the grandmother, whom we see a little less of, but whose every scene is a sheer joy to watch, as the actress who breathes life into her is none other than Isabelle Huppert – that same sarcastic Huppert that we have enjoyed watching time and again in various recent movies.
And so while the story may be simple, Schroeder builds up her film around these three perfectly structured characters with consummate talent, beginning with the image. Right from the very first few minutes, as Catherine looks for her daughter, we can see that Schroeder has paid remarkable attention to being precise with the image. As we soon notice through the short scene in which Catherine invites her father to go and see a mysterious object, but then we immediately move on to something else, the image is boiled down to only the bare essentials – in other words, to the game of reflections between one mother-daughter relationship and the other. In every single shot of the film, there is not a single superfluous gesture or other element, thus allowing us to better savour the face-to-face encounters of the reunion, for example, as well as the astonishing expression of helplessness on Alba's face, caught between her grandmother and her mother. Another example is the scene at the match, which we initially only see from one side of the court, but finally turn around to face the other, empty, half.
That same fiendish precision has been applied to the dialogue as well, where every little word counts (while Catherine says "because of tennis", her daughter says "thanks to"), and from which several exceedingly simple but beautiful lines stick in our mind, such as when Alba mentions her friend Agathe, to which Catherine replies, "I'd really like to be named after a stone."
This minimalism that we find in the composition, or rather this attention to what really matters, including the sheer poetry of the emotions, verges on choreography, much like that which Alba shows off to Catherine in a field, in a moving and liberating scene that echoes their first encounter in the film. Little by little, the characters' feelings are indeed set free, as if released carefully from a drip feed, or passing through the space built into a dam so that fish can still wriggle through it.
(Translated from French)
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