Minggu, 29 Mei 2011

Maria Speth - Madonnen aka Madonnas (2007)

A young woman just out of jail, whose four children by different fathers all live with her mother, tries to rebuild her life.

While viewers are still recovering from her powerhouse performance in last year’s Requiem (for which she won a Silver Bear), German actress Sandra Hüller wowed audiences at the most recent Berlinale with her turn in the bleak family drama Madonnen (Madonnas). The second feature from Maria Speth is a Madonna-whore variation on the stark dramas that the Dardennes seemed to have a patent on but this time told from a female point of view. Speth is not (at least not yet) as accomplished a storytelller as the Belgians siblings and her ideas on motherhood and the mistakes of parents visited upon their children never fully cristalise. Like in Requiem, it is Hüller who pulls the audience through. Modest business in Dardenne-friendly territories is a possibility.

The film’s opening half-hour is set in Belgium and is, strangely enough, the least Dardenne-like portion of the film, even though Dardenne-reguler Olivier Gourmet puts in an affable appearance and the double Cannes Golden Palm winners actually co-produced. Hüller is Rita, a young German mother who is travelling alone with a small baby. She finally crashes at the house of Jerôme (Gourmet), who might be her father but has his own family now. The highlight of this early section (and the reason it is so un-Dardenne-like) is its masterful serio-comic tone, especially during a nice family dinner where Jerôme’s wife and son (Jérémie Segard, the younger criminal accomplice from L’enfant/The Child) are clearly unsure how to deal with this unknown who might be related to them and who speaks another language to boot.

Things grow grimmer when the story relocates to Germany, where much of Rita’s behaviour is explained as her own mother (Susanne Lothar) comes into focus. Rita blames her for pretty much everything in her life and in what seems like a plotted revenge has had a handful of children -- all from different fathers – who she dumps at her mother’s so she can go out with her friends. The psychology of the two rivally mothers who are also mother and daughter is too bare-bones to warrant a two-hour film and a more thorough exploration of their relationship could have helped the occasional feeling of boredom from creeping in.

Speth, a second-time director who also wrote the film’s screenplay, seems more interested in showing Rita’s disconnect from the world around her than in exploring the possible reasons behind it. As Rita, Hüller acts her socks off, though Madonnen lacks the clear character arc and pent-up rage that made her appearance in Requiem crackle and sizzle. She seems young to be a mother of so many, but then again, that is exactly the point. Coleman Orlando Swinton co-stars as a black US army soldier who puts up with Rita and all of her offspring, though if his first expression at being asked to take care of them is anything to go by, this came as quite an unwelcome surprise.

Visually, Madonnen is consciously drab and grey, opting for the semi-documentary look that is so often employed for these gritty slice-of-life tales. Tim Pannen’s production design is nicely cluttered and especially effective in the way it subtly fills Rita’s new apartment with more furniture and bric-a-brac as the story progresses. Strangely, the scenes in Belgium seem to have been filmed in a Flemish town, though all its inhabitants and the local police in the film are French-speaking.

Written by Boyd van Hoeij Speth_2007.avi

no pass

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