Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Wed Mar 02, 2022 2:04 pm 
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The excitement of living crazy

Antoine Barrau's accomplished new film (coauthored with Hélena Klotz of Atomic Age) is about a woman who is trying to live two lives and two identities, one in Switzerland and one in Paris, and who is deceiving herself that nobody knows she is doing this but herself. What exactly she is doing and how she is doing it unfolds for us, the audience, only gradually, so at first the film is an intriguing mystery. As the deception begins to unravel and she struggles to save it, we enter thriller territory. And it's a psychological thriller as we wonder what is going on in her mind that led to this. All the while there is the delicious excitement of something exciting and mad, a little like entering the mind of someone who is manic. There's the hint of association with spies or criminals - the Bonds, the Ripleys, who do this sort of thing for a dangerous purpose, which makes this a bit of a genre-shifter. The beautiful Virgnie Efira, the star, has an inimitable and cozy gloss of glamor and hysteria that carries it all along. Her character pretends to be liberated - she justifies her being too-much absent from both families every week as she shiftily commutes between them as the right of a woman to be just as career-obsessed as a man. But her freedom is a prison whose protective wall we see starting to crumble.

French critics agree that in this film Efira (Victoria, Elle, Sibyl, Benedetta) returns to form and, more internationally famous now through starring in Verhoeven's lurid nun drama, finds a role equal to her immense talent; that she is the only French - well, francophone (Belgian) - actress of her generation who could do what she does here. Everything revolves tensely and deliciously around her and the two men and the children whose lives she separately shares.

In Switzerland it's Abdel Soriano (Catalan actor Quim Gutierrez, in his first major French-speaking role), who is a mover, and their little daughter, Ninon (Loïse Benguerel). In Paris she has a much more glamorous life as the wife of conductor on the rise Melvil Fauvet (Bruno Salomone), with whom she has two boys a little older than Ninon. To justify her back-and-forths she claims to be going to separate gigs in her work as an English-to-French interpreter, to Warsaw, to Spain (Ninon wants to be taken along; she's fragile and not at the age when being left alone to her dad every week is easy to take.) She is not going to Warsaw or Spain or anywhere of course but between Switzerland and Paris.

More and more the deceptions crack, the separate identities, Judith or Jude in Switzerland and Margot in Paris, getting confused as fake ID's fail to pass muster with traffic cops, friends who know her by different names run into each other at a concert hall, and children, who have instinct, start to suspect things they hear her say into her smartphone - and, as the French blurb says on [url=""]AlloCiné[/url], "Caught in a trap, Judith chooses to escape into a headlong flight."

Arguably as things unravel so does the glamor and the film loses some of its attraction. But a teasing prologue sequence that runs absorbingly during the opening credits sets things up very neatly. It is a piece whose place in the puzzle is revealed only later, but that little failing, fainting spells that Judith-Margot suffers in public places neatly link with and remind us of. The other key elements in the success of Madeleine Collins (another name, another identity, incidentally, whose meaning will be unveiled in the final frames) are the solid ones of the separate family members. These include Thomas Gioria, the young lead from the French domestic hit thriller Custody, as Margot's older son with Melvil, and Ninon's grandparents, played by Jacqueline Bisset and François Rostain, and other strong supporting players including director and comedienne Valérie Donzelli as Madeleine Reynal, a major collaborator with conductor Melvil, and a shifty character called Kurt played with conviction by Israeli filmmaker Nadav Lapid of Synonymes, that flashy shape-shifter tale set in Paris with whose protagonist Lapid has confessed a certain personal identification.

Madeleine Collins leaves a pleasant glow of giddy thrills that's heightened by a sense of unease, something of the same excitement that makes Patricia Highsmith's Tom Ripley novels so enjoyable - the uneasy pleasure of entering intimately into the mind and world of someone crazy and wrong. Except that Efira's busy character isn't a criminal; the only harm she is doing is to those close around her and to herself - and to our own mental ease. This film gives pleasure while, for a while at least, also undermining our own sense of identify and psychic balance. It's all wonderfully cinematic.

Madeleine Collins, 102 mins., debuted at Venice Giornate degli Autori Sept. 2, 2021, with only four other festivals listed on IMDb including Chicago and Philadelphia. It was in a hurry to be a Christmas present for the French, opening in Paris theaters Dec. 22, 2021 and receiving an AlloCiné press rating of 3.7. It is included in the Mar. 3-13, 2022 UniFrance-Film at Lincoln Center Rendez-Vous with French Cinema series.

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