A homeless young hairdresser agrees to bear an older woman’s child in exchange for enough money to start her own long dreamt-of salon in “Melody,” a strongly acted two-hander from Belgian helmer Bernard Bellefroid. Holed up in the elder lady’s English country home by the sea, the two women first warily circle each other, then slowly start to bond around convoluted questions of motherhood. But Bellefroid rejects any neat linear progression, preferring to send his two leads veering off on separate, erratic emotional trajectories that never necessarily mesh. Lucie Debay and Rachael Blake shared the actress award at Montreal for the film, which may find niche play abroad.
Even more than nationality, language or age, it’s class that separates 28-year-old Belgian Melody (Debay), an itinerant coiffeuse, from 48-year-old Englishwoman Emily (Blake), a highly placed executive in a London firm. At the beginning, the film follows them separately. We see Melody stuffing flyers in mailboxes to lure new clients, sometimes sleeping in hallways and lugging around the tools of her trade so she can attend to her (mostly elderly) clients in their apartments. Initially, Melody wants nothing to do with childbearing; only her desperate desire to quit her rootless subsistence lifestyle and open a place of her own motivates her to change her mind. With the money Emily forwards her, she puts a down payment on a fixer-upper commercial space, though it’s doubtful she’ll have the resources to fix it up any time soon.
But as her pregnancy advances and her relationship with Emily passes through doubts, suspicions, affection and bewilderment, in no particular order, Melody’s own past begins to haunt her. The fact that she was abandoned as an infant and never had a mother of her own makes her feel alternately obliged and yet completely unable to care for the child she bears.
Emily, meanwhile, struggles with issues of her own. A much-anticipated earlier pregnancy, aborted when she contracted cancer, makes her desperate for a child of her own. Wary of a woman whose only motive is monetary, yet afraid Melody might grow attached and decamp with the baby, Emily finds her doubts and fears thrown into confusion anew as cancer again threatens. Emily’s cool blonde beauty and ultra-competent control, much in evidence in business meetings, are removed along with her hitherto-unsuspected wig to reveal a vulnerable, close-cropped brunette.
Bellefroid rings endless variations on how the two women come to tend to each other’s needs, as they tramp through the woods, walk the rocky shore or huddle in closeups in the country house. A brief jaunt to the Ukraine (egg implantation not being entirely legal in England), seen early in the film, allows the helmer to expand the pic’s purview, all the better to emphasize the cut-off cocooning of the two women as birth and death draw near.