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Categories: Movie Reviews

Talent runs in the family, it would seem, as Lolita Chammah and Isabelle Huppert light up emotional familial drama Barrage with raw magnetism.

Played by Lolita Chammah and her actual mother Isabelle Huppert, Elisabeth and her daughter Catherine clash one weekend when Catherine suddenly returns to visit her estranged daughter, Alba, who for the past ten years has been raised by Elisabeth.

It’s a complex and awkward relationship between these three generations of women. Catherine attempts to prove to both her mother and daughter, who are equally sceptical of Catherine’s claims, that she has changed her ways and is finally ready to be a mother.

Set in leafy and expansive landscapes of Luxembourg forests, the film is an interesting and beautifully captured addition to director Laura Schroeder’s collection of work. Shot in a 4:3 aspect ratio, the film feels intimate yet whimsical with a vivid colour scheme, eclectic soundtrack and minimal amount of dialogue.

It fluctuates between a documentarian and fantastical feel, the reality within the narrative emphasised by a jolty run-and-gun camera yet with an undercurrent of child-like romanticism for its characters and environments. It’s reminiscent to me of the 1960s French New Wave flair due to its understated rhythm and highly satisfying imagery (I’m no doubt influenced in opinion by the script also being spoken entirely in French).

Due to theses stylistic choices, Schroeder’s film becomes a wonderfully unnerving character study. We see the potentially fatal cracks within Catherine’s personality as they reveal themselves over the course of the weekend; she subtly manipulates and kidnaps Alba, who wants nothing more than to go back to her grandmother. Catherine is as childish, if not more so, than her barely-teenage daughter and she goads Alba into staying with her at Elisabeth’s chalet over the course of a whole weekend, instead of the originally agreed upon couple of hours.

Catherine’s almost Machiavellian selfishness keeps us fearful for the safety of Alba. She demands a chance to redeem herself for her lack of parenting without consideration the possibility that she has in fact, not been missed.

She is constantly battling with her drug addiction, secretly popping pills until Alba confronts her. Embarrassed, she abandons the drugs then when left without her medication seeks solace in other vices, even deserting Alba one night in a mad attempt to find an open pharmacy.

Chammah truly gives a heart-breaking performance as the slightly unhinged Catherine, besieged with her utter lament over her relationship with her daughter, her distrust of Elisbeth’s strict upbringing of Alba and her diverging and abruptly altering personalities, symptoms of her sudden divorce from her reliance on prescription medication.

It’s a film exploring what it means to be a family, especially one with a chequered past, how we hold the most vicious of grudges against those we love most, how its hard to forgive and forget when we’re so prone to seeing cyclical repetitions of bad behaviour in those we know better than ourselves.

We all make mistakes, we attempt to learn from them, but for some of us it proves harder than for most, and when we’re expected to make the same mistakes by our own families, chances are we end up proving them right.

The kinetic energy between Chammah and her actual mother Huppert drives home this story of redemption and forgiveness, of letting go of a lifetime of petty familial grievances for the chance of a new beginning.

Francesca Amoroso

Francesca is currently a Camera Assistant, working and living in London. She is an MA Film Studies graduate from UCL and writes about film in her spare time.

Posted on Oct 7, 2017

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