Friday, February 10, 2017

Notes on Barrage, by Laura Schroeder, Luxembourg/Belgium/France: 2017-Berlinale2017 II.-Forum

A film can only present the surface of the the things the people or the landscape captured by the cinematic recording apparatus. In this film we have a a relationship in a fragmented family. Catherine, a young mother returns after 10 years from Switzerland to Luxembourg. She has not seen her daughter Alba for 10 years. The child has raised by her grandmother Elisabeth (played by the wonderful Isabelle Huppert) who is also her tennis coach. The alienation between these three persons seems to be insuperable. The separation of these three has created a new reality, the reality the one of a shattered family. At the beginning Catherine tries to her daughter again and at the beginning it is as useless like to run with the head against a wall. Despite the alienation there is s strange physical resemblance, if in gesture, costume design or whatever. Something which makes me believe that these people have shared a life which was interrupted for 10 years. The past, Catherine´s relationship to her mother (who also once was her tennis coach), her mental problems in the past and even her reason to leave her country and her family are not really explained but implied through small hints. Exactly here happens something with the film. The given reality of this relationships and as well the given reality of this precise apparatus who records this reality is undercut by the incalculable factor of human feelings, longings, the rebellion against the world like it is. Like Ozu, Laura Schroeder simulates with her fiction a piece of reality. But this reality is hard to bear for her protagonists and if they can´t change this reality, the only thing they can do is to get ideas about what put them into this merciless reality.

There is a contradiction in this film which we and the protagonists have to bear, the world like it is and how it could be. This “how it could be” is revealed only in small heartbreaking fleeting moments like a dance of mother and daughter in the landscape. The biggest part of the film takes place in a vacation home on a river and near a forest, an engrossed place where the reality of these persons are not totally suspended but where it can be questioned. This environment is beautiful but there are hidden dangers, especially for a child. The material visible landscape and the indefinable invisible human landscape, we can neither see nor feel but imagine. This summer cottage with it´s environment is also an analogy to cinema itself and probably of it´s most subversive power.

Catherine has a cute little dog who is hit by a car when Alba tries to run away from her mother. They bury the animal in a forest. It is one of these strange moving moments in this film. It was this small animal which neither does know nor accept any “Barrages” from what the film is telling all the time.

The title “Barrage” suggests several options to find access to the film, the barriers between the characters but also as something man made which precludes the persons to come close to each other like they once were. The more the film proceeds Catherine´s relationship to her mother and the one between her mother and herself are reflected in each other. Present actions reveal for moments the past of the protagonists.

The cautious, sometimes even affectionate but always precise view of this fragmented and framed piece of world it reveals, a film can be nevertheless very intense, even moving. The depth of the characters like for example in Barrage unfolds as if by itself and this fragment of the world makes the whole world at least imaginable.
At the end everything remains in it´s status quo like it was at the beginning. The grandmother takes Alba back to her home and seemingly Catherine accept it. If mother and daughter will coming closer to each other – the film does not tell anymore. It is an acceptance of the things like they are but with a slight trace of hope for a change. This excursion into this summer cottage does not make Catherine or Alba happier than they are and it does not compensate for a life they have not lived, neither compensate it for their losses. Yet the film closes with this small idea of a change which I will describe with Marcel Proust: “We don´t succeed in being happy but we reach insights about the reasons who prevent us to be happy.” It is not only a good thought for this wise and beautiful film, it is also one good description for the meaning of cinema.

Rüdiger Tomczak

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