Young Alba’s mother has not been part of her life for the last ten years. With no discernible catalyst, Catherine suddenly reappears and wants to connect with her daughter. Alba has been raised by her grandmother, Elisabeth, who is regimented and somewhat brittle, but never cold. Catherine takes her daughter on an outing that is not as spontaneous as it seems, an event that even the most sympathetic of prosecutors would concede as basically a kidnapping. And so goes Barrage, the sublime second feature from director Laura Schroeder.
As Elisabeth, Isabelle Huppert’s initial scenes are all too brief, leading to the question as to whether her role is a quick and undemanding cameo, perhaps due to the fact that her daughter in the movie is played by her real-life daughter, Lolita Chammah. Having such an iconic screen presence in what is seemingly presented as a minor role is something of a distraction, although it’s not a spoiler alert to say that Huppert shows up again to assert herself.
The film truly belongs to Lolita Chammah as Catherine. She offers a maternal warmth that bustles with a desperation just beneath her fractured surface. Her mania is seemingly never far from being unleashed, and it would be easy for the character to become lost in histrionics. The actress never overplays the role, but the “dark thoughts” that are touched upon as the reason for her abandoning her daughter are conveyed with a sharp nuance. Chammah is quite brilliant here.
Laura Schroeder seems to favour a succession of extreme close-ups, allowing her characters to loom, lurch, and even lunge, without giving them anywhere to hide. Mental illness on film has a tendency to be overcooked, but this gentle tale of how three generations of women deal with brutal emotions offers a beautiful, quiet complexity.
Barrage does not have a UK release date yet.
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Watch the trailer for Barrage here: