×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Berlin Film Review: ‘Barrage’

The palpable familial connection between Lolita Chammah and Isabelle Huppert adds a layer of interest to Laura Schroeder's mother-daughter drama.

With:
Lolita Chammah, Thémis Pauwels, Isabelle Huppert, Charles Muller, Elsa Houben, Marja-Leena Juncker, Luc Schiltz, Juliette Moro. (French dialogue)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5797756/

To say at this point that Isabelle Huppert is the best thing about any film featuring Isabelle Huppert is tantamount to saying that chocolate chips are the standout in a chocolate chip cookie. This self-evident truth applies to “Barrage,” though most of Laura Schroeder’s triple-tiered mother-daughter study needs to get by without her. Get by it just about does, thanks to a thoughtful, wounded leading turn by Huppert’s own daughter, Lolita Chammah, as a recovering addict mending bridges with her estranged kid (Thémis Pauwels) and her mistrustful mom (Huppert). But after a taut, flinty opening that sees Huppert and Chammah sparring to quietly heart-ripping effect, the air trickles out of this sensitive but cliché-laced drama, as the younger mother and daughter head into the wilderness for some fraught, dramatically repetitive healing. Sharp lensing and angular performance details compensate for an errant script that feels a draft or two away from completion; in her sophomore feature, Schroeder’s directorial eye promises bigger visions to come.

“Barrage” in this context refers to a flood-preventing barrier built across a body of water, the symbolic implications of which the viewer is left to draw for themselves — though fragile, depressive 30-something Catherine (Chammah) seems like a woman herself on the verge of overflow. After 10 years away, for reasons that are gradually filled in by Schroeder and co-writer Marie Nimier, she returns home to Luxembourg, where her now 12-year-old daughter Alba has been raised by Catherine’s divorced mother Elisabeth. Having rebuilt some semblance of independent life and secured an apartment, with help from her more openly sympathetic dad (Charles Muller), Catherine is ready to reconnect with Alba. In a beautifully blocked and cut opening scene, she spies on her daughter at the youth tennis club where Elisabeth rather too rigorously coaches her — the dull thwocking of balls and rushing of feet evidently triggering unhappy memories of her own similar upbringing.

Ever the master of passive-aggressive tension, Huppert brilliantly etches a simultaneous history of caring and control in her body language, also making light work of barbed line readings: “You look well for a change,” she observes thinly when Catherine turns up unannounced on her doorstep for some unrequested quality time with Alba. Casting Huppert opposite her real-life daughter was an inspired ploy on Schroeder’s part: The two previously collaborated to winning effect in the 2010 comedy “Copacabana,” but their connection is more complex here, while there’s a certain fascination in watching the two actresses reflect each other in ways both deliberate and unconscious. The great cinematographer Hélène Louvart, whose clean-lined Academy-ratio compositions bring a certain New Wave texture to proceedings, seems struck by the resemblance, going so far as to give Huppert and Chammah coordinating profile shots at one point.

Casting isn’t the only reason, however, that the dynamic between Catherine and Elisabeth is more persuasively fractious than Catherine and Alba’s still-unformed relationship. Once Catherine, granted permission to take her daughter out on a day trip to the zoo, decides to effectively kidnap the girl, the script’s credibility takes a series of knocks: Whisking Alba off to the family’s long-abandoned holiday chalet in the woods, she rashly decides to quit her antidepressants, with predictably unhinged consequences. Meanwhile, despite young Pauwels’ stern, stoic focus in the role, Alba’s pinballing reactions — petulantly resistant one minute, complicit the next — to her mother’s increasingly irrational behavior don’t ring entirely true, which makes their gradual mutual understanding feel less hard-earned than it should.

The bulk of “Barrage” plays out as a tetchy two-hander between them, offering some lovely interludes — a goofy mirror-image dance sequence to The Chainsmokers’ “Don’t Let Me Down” sweetly positions both mother and daughter as the assurance-seeking girls they are — and others that simply extend the questionable abduction scenario through mere contrivance. A luridly lit, elaborately staged nightmare sequence that collates a variety of Catherine’s childhood traumas, meanwhile, provides some stark tonal variation.

It’s finally the endearing Chammah, a more pliably vulnerable screen presence than Huppert was even in her “Lacemaker” days, who has to knit this wobbly middle stretch together, and she plays even her character’s least credible decisions with gentle conviction, occasional streaks of more pained, ironic wit peeking through. “Leave it, it won’t fall any lower,” she instructs her daughter when a grotesque mounted boar’s head falls from the chalet’s gaudily decorated wall, her tone turning brisk and thorny when at the end of her tether. You can imagine her mother watching off-camera and cracking a proud smile.

Berlin Film Review: 'Barrage'

Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Forum), Feb. 9, 2017. Running time: 111 MIN.

Production: (Luxembourg-Belgium-France) A Red Lion, Entre Chien et Loup presentation of a Red Lion, Entre Chien et Loup, Mact Prods., Proximus production. (International sales: Luxbox, Paris.) Produced by Pol Cruchten, Jeanne Geiben, Sébastien Delloye, Sebastian Schelenz, Martine De Clermont-Tonnerre, Tanguy Dekeyser, David Claikens, Alex Verbaer.

Crew: Directed by Laura Schroeder. Screenplay, Schroeder, Marie Nimier. Camera (color), Hélène Louvart. Editor, Damien Keyeux.

With: Lolita Chammah, Thémis Pauwels, Isabelle Huppert, Charles Muller, Elsa Houben, Marja-Leena Juncker, Luc Schiltz, Juliette Moro. (French dialogue)

More Film

  • FICG Names Estrella Araiza As New

    Estrella Araiza To Head Up Guadalajara Intl Film Festival

    The Guadalajara Intl. Film Festival (FICG) has announced that Estrella Araiza, until now the festival’s head of industry and markets and director of the Guadalajara IntL. Film Festival in Los Angeles, has been promoted to the position of general director of the prominent Mexican festival. She replaces Ivan Trujillo, appointed director of TV UNAM. More [...]

  • 'St. Bernard Syndicate' Review: A Quietly

    Film Review: 'St. Bernard Syndicate'

    John C. Reilly and Steve Coogan may have received major award nominations this season for their fine work in “Stan & Ollie,” but there’s arguably a superior Laurel & Hardy tribute act to be found in the droll Danish comedy “St. Bernard Syndicate.” As a pair of bumbling losers who turn an already dubious business [...]

  • With PGA win, 'Green Book' is

    Oscars: With PGA Victory, 'Green Book' Becomes Best Picture Frontrunner

    Save for a pair of recent back-to-back discrepancies in “The Big Short” and “La La Land,” the Producers Guild’s Darryl F. Zanuck Award for Theatrical Motion Pictures has been a fairly reliable barometer for the annual Oscar season outcome. At least, ever since both the PGA and film Academy expanded their top categories, sharing the [...]

  • Peter Farrelly30th Annual Producers Guild Awards,

    PGA Awards: 'Green Book' Wins Top Feature Film Award

    “Green Book” has won the Producers Guild’s Darryl F. Zanuck Award as the top feature film of 2018. The 1960s drama-comedy topped “BlacKkKlansman,” “Black Panther” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Crazy Rich Asians,” “The Favourite,”  “A Quiet Place,” “Roma,” “A Star Is Born” and “Vice. More Reviews Film Review: 'St. Bernard Syndicate' Film Review: ‘Dragon Ball Super: Broly’ [...]

  • Netflix HQ LA

    Andy Gruenberg, Veteran Film Executive, Dies at 68

    Veteran film executive Andy Gruenberg, who most recently oversaw theatrical distribution at Netflix, died suddenly on Friday. He was 68. Gruenberg worked on classic films like “Ghostbusters,” “Karate Kid” and “Silverado” while at Columbia Pictures in the 80s and 90s. More Reviews Film Review: 'St. Bernard Syndicate' Film Review: ‘Dragon Ball Super: Broly’ He then [...]

  • Fyre Festival Caterer Receives Thousands in

    Unpaid Fyre Festival Caterer Raises Thousands in Donations on GoFundMe

    As two Fyre Festival documentaries hit the airwaves, a couple who say their credit was ruined due to the Fyre Festival’s lack of payment for their services have raised $54,381 at time of publication on GoFundMe. Elvis and Maryann Rolle wrote on their page that they catered “no less than 1000 meals per day” in [...]

  • DF-10956_R – Gwilym Lee (Brian May) and

    'Bohemian Rhapsody' Producer Confirms Bryan Singer's Reason for Leaving, Says 'No One' Was Attached to Play Mercury

    “Bohemian Rhapsody” producer Graham King provided insight into some of the events surrounding the Golden Globe-winning film Saturday at the Producers Guild Awards Nominees Breakfast, including director Bryan Singer’s departure from the film partway through production. “It’s an unfortunate situation, with like 16, 17 days to go and Bryan Singer just had some issues, his [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content