Madeleine Collins

  • 02 Sep - 08 Sep, 2023
  • Mag The Weekly
  • Reviews

Some of you may recall the book and accompanying movie I Don't Know How She Does It, which had as its heroine a woman juggling parenthood and a profession a familiar statement of bewilderment. "Madeleine Collins" (a title that, like the aforementioned prologue, only makes sense late in the film) depicts how one woman balances a career and two different households in which she is a mother after a bleak, unsettling prologue that for a while seems to have nothing to do with what follows.

There is Geneva, where "Margot" is Abdel's stressed-out girlfriend and the mother of the cute, clingy toddler Ninon. She works as a translator in the city. Then there's Paris, where "Judith" is Melvil's beloved and dapperly attired wife and a renowned orchestra director. She cares after two sons there; Joris, one of them, is getting old enough to realise that his mother may not be who she claims to be.

Margot and Judith are the same person, and Virginie Efira, well known to viewers for her roles in Paul Verhoeven's "Elle" and "Benedetta," plays her with a strong emphasis on the tension growing in her precarious predicament. She starts off in the movie written by Antoine Berraud and Hélène Klotz on a note of normal, besieged faith or confidence that is usual in a woman's society. The more we discover about her circumstance, the more intriguing it seems. Her Parisian life has been made known to Abdel. Melvil is also familiar with Abdel. Actually, more than the audience does at first.

Melvil, however, is unaware of the relationship his wife has with the other man. The parents of Judith/Margot have connections to both household situations, but they don't know the full story, it turns out.

As obstacles and chance encounters multiply, she runs into an old coworker in Geneva who knows her by a different name! Here is the unkempt underground ID forger who has a crush on her and purposely provided her a card that was no longer valid because the five years had already passed.This persona, whose real name is never, it seems, really known to the viewer, starts to fall apart as Judith falls more and more under the snide gaze of Parisian teen son Joris (played with note-perfect petulance by Thomas Gioria).

Berraud is juggling several issues in her work, including the difficulty of being a woman, a hot topic these days, and the various roles we are required to play in life, which are here pushed to their absolute extremes. Berraud aims to elevate this material into that of a suspense thriller with the help of the prologue, the film's increasing franticness, and the usage of Romain Trouillet's music, which has a strong Bernard Herrmann-era influence. It doesn't quite work, especially considering the revelation of what motivated Efira's character to commit her deceptions, which, despite being intended to tug at the heartstrings, comes off as quite bland.

The acting, however, is consistently excellent and the locations are more than credible. In Quim Gutierrez's portrayal of Abdel, who eventually becomes so frustrated with his arrangement that he takes another lady into the home, Abdel is both sympathetic and stern. As Melvil, Bruno Salomone conveys a rather mild self-involvement that makes it nearly certain that he won't be able to perceive what's happening. As Margot/Judith's mother, Jacqueline Bisset is welcome in a supporting role. The film is, however, most obviously a showcase for Efira, who in "Benedetta" as a peculiar 17th-century nun showed she could play dazzling and anguished with equal facility. Here, she gets to explore a similar range.