QUICK SNAP: LIVE FROM VENICE
How much anybody knows about anybody is the subject of Antoine Barraud’s new film. Judith Fauvet (Virginie Efira) is a successful woman, with a high-powered job, a lovely young daughter and a handsome partner Abdel (Quim Gutierrez) who looks after the family while she is away on business. However, it is slowly revealed that she also has a husband Melvil, who is a famous conductor of an orchestra and two sons.
Barraud reveals his entangled plots gradually. Nothing seems certain. A prologue – apparently totally unconnected to the main plot – plays like the beginning of a horror movie as a young woman in a high-end dress shop is shopping for an evening gown when she collapses. It sets up a sense of the fragility of ordinary life, even one which is swaddled in the benefits of the bourgeoisie. Efira – fresh from a feisty turn in Paul Verhoeven’s scandalous nun movie Benedette – presents Judith at first as a woman in absolute control. She isn’t someone trapped in domestic captivity seeking an out. She is happy in both realities and treats both her men with obvious love. She has a perfect life in many respects. Just that she has two. And are we sure it’s only two?
However, as the competing demands of her job and her two families increase, Judith starts to unravel. Her lying becomes more brazen and unmotivated. It no longer seems like a means to an end but a compulsion in and of itself. The extent to which the men in her life know what is going on is unclear. Do they know but not know that they know? Or are they in complete ignorance? Add to that Judith’s own opaqueness even to herself.
Superficially, Madeleine Collins resembles the case of Jean-Claude Romand, the man who lived a double life for years documented in Emanuele Carrere’s book The Adversary which was also filmed in 2002 under the same name. But does it make a difference that this is a woman? This kind of duplicity might be seen as relatively routine for a man cheating on his family. Ida Lupino made a film about it in 1953 (The Bigamist). Romand’s case was monstrous in its extremity, but it was also an extreme version of the lying which is fairly commonplace for men with certain kinds of careers: the conferences and work trips which can’t be gotten out of. For Judith, her refusal to be tied down to one circumstance, one identity has aspects which are exhilarating. Her job as an interpreter and translator sees her having to glide between languages and national identities. At one moment she makes a slip calling the Taiwanese government the Chinese government: a definite example of a non-trivial misidentification.
As she unravels, so does her job and her career. There is a danger in the latter half of the film that the story and lead character will descend into the cliches of female hysteria, but it is a fate avoided mainly due to the superb nature of Efira’s performance. Her Judith is a complicated and ultimately unknowable woman, at once baffling and genuinely enigmatic.
Madeleine Collins has just premiered at the Venice Film Festival.