In Madeline’s Madeline, unbalanced teen Madeline is still discovering the world and herself. While having confrontational problems with her single mother, she explores her inner feelings and fights her demons through active participation in an experimental theater workshop.
There are these magic minutes, within a difficult scene, in Josephine Decker’s third feature, Madeline’s Madeline, in which her young lead, newcomer Helena Howard (as Madeline), reaches a state of grace. Confronted to the shadow and omnipresence of her single mother (as well as her female experimental theater workshop director) her character of Madeline seizes a chance to settle a score about things annoying her. As she literally bursts into the screen you can’t help but feel that there could be some bright future ahead if this actress’s obvious talent is not spoiled by some awful Hollywood screenplays or bad direction. People at WME talent agency you got yourselves a pure jewel.
Being highly experimental in mind and body, Madeline’s Madeline is not your typical coming-of age drama. As an artist, Decker deals with alternate reality and mental health issues using close ups in a near-subjective camera proposal, recalling Brothers D’Ardennes’ Cannes Palme d’Or winner, Rosetta (1999). We ‘follow’ Madeline. There is also a little something of the Danish Dogma ’95 manifesto of Von Trier et Al. But the comparisons with her fellow male directors ends here. Decker appropriates the raw material and shapes it into an art piece, playing with frame, lens, colors and re-working the sound extensively. All with a mainly female crew.
On screen and behind cameras, Madeline’s Madeline is mostly a womens’ affair. Males are secondary characters: an absent father, the theater director’s husband, the possible ‘boyfriend material’. They are accessories. It doesn’t exclude males, it just doesn’t really deal with them. It is about women and their own issues. It’s a fair deal. The direct and simple way it also deals with onscreen Caucasian-Afro-American mixed couples, simply by being together, breathing in a universal story, making no big deal about colors, is refreshing beyond the good intentions. The director doesn’t close her eyes on the fact there are still major problems in America, it is just not her piece. Nonetheless she shares a dignified representation of black people on screen.
Madeline’s Madeline‘s overall shape, and the approach to filmmaking may be difficult to swallow for some viewers. However it fully makes sense as a choice of mise-en-scène that fully symbolizes its subject. Decker is a director and not a shrink, thus making it a delicate matter when it comes to the polarity of the main character. Our promiscuity as a spectator (both screenplay-wise and technically) takes us deep into the events. To fit the onscreen fictional director, Evangeline (Molly Parker)’s obsessive requirements about being rather than just performing, we are not just passively looking at the action, but rather taken into its embodied form of confinement. We stay very close to Madeline and her state of mind, even if we are kept in the dark about her whole background.
Both literally and figuratively the main protagonist is exposed, trying to find her inner self – trapped between her real mother (played by film director Miranda July) and equally demanding substitute figures on screen and off screen. Not much space is left to breathe for her nor the audience. Her sanity put at risk becomes the perfect set-up for a burgeoning revolt. But, thank God, these mental health issues are not scrutinized. On the contrary the screenwriters opt for the path of adapted personal options. It has much ado about finding one’s own single way to express and free thyself. For our young woman it is about releasing Madeline’s Madeline.
Fantasia 2nd screening: Wednesday, August 1st, 3:30 PM – Concordia University’s J.A. deSeve Theatre