Venice 2021 review: Madeleine Collins (Antoine Barraud)

“The way Efira moves from casual naturalism to heightened drama over the course of the film is a testament to her wide range. It’s a demanding role, but the ease with which Efira tackles it is impressive.”

Judith Fauvet leads a happy life in Switzerland. Together with Abdel (Quim Gutiérrez) she raises their 3-year-old daughter Ninon (Loïse Benguerel). Judith has a stressful but well-paid job as a translator at an international institute, a job that requires her to regularly go abroad on business trips. This causes some friction in their home situation, but she gives the impression she can manage.

Judith Fauvet leads a happy life in France. Her husband Melvil (Bruno Salomone) is a renowned orchestra conductor and together they raise their two sons. Melvil is looking to buy a new place for them and wants Judith to see a house with him. Judith has a stressful but well-paid job that requires her to regularly go abroad on business trips. This causes some friction in their home life, but she gives the impression she can manage.

Judith Fauvet leads a double life. Increasingly she can no longer manage her life at all. As Ninon gets older the girl grows more attached to Judith, thus her leaving for days every week becomes a growing problem. Abdel is aware of the double life she leads and presses Judith about the deteriorating situation with his daughter. Over in France her son Joris overhears his mother’s phone conversations and starts to have doubts. One by one the dominoes in Judith’s life start to fall, and she unravels as her whole life, or actually both of them, threaten to come crashing down around her.

Antoine Barraud’s sixth feature film Madeleine Collins is a tightly constructed melodrama in which the story (written by Barraud himself in collaboration with Héléna Klotz) slowly reveals the web of lies that Judith has woven, a web she herself is now becoming entangled in. The screenplay bleeds out the information in a steady trickle, gradually revealing the significance of earlier incidents and allowing the audience to fill in the blanks, like the puzzling opening scene in which a young woman shopping for dresses in a big department store suddenly decides to commit suicide, or the reason why Judith identifies herself as Margot at times. Once all pieces of the puzzle have fallen into place Madeleine Collins hurls itself to a perhaps overly dramatic ending, but with an oddly touching denouement.

Madeleine Collins, the title itself a mystery that is solved in the film’s final act, rests firmly on the shoulders of Belgian actress Virginie Efira, who gives a towering performance as a woman who, without malicious intent, has dug a hole for herself so deep that getting out seems impossible. The way Efira moves from casual naturalism to heightened drama over the course of the film is a testament to her wide range. It’s a demanding role, but the ease with which Efira tackles it is impressive and she reins in the drama to prevent it from going completely over the top. The supporting cast is uniformly strong, with Gutiérrez in particular able to make his Abdel a relatable character, and Jacqueline Bisset in a wonderful small part as Judith’s passive-aggressive mother. Surprising in a small role is Israeli director Nadav Lapid, whose character may seem superfluous but provides a poignant ending to the film.

There is not a lot beneath the surface of Madeleine Collins, as the film does not tackle weighty themes or topical material. But Barraud has crafted a strong adult drama with a compelling central character and a carefully laid out, tight plot around it. Madeleine Collins captivates for its full runtime, the French director proving himself to be a gifted storyteller.

Madeleine Collins (Antoine Barraud)