Teenager Alba (Themis Pauwels) lies to her friend Agatha that her estranged mother is a singer in a band and wouldn’t disclose to the world about her being a parent. Although there exists a barrier between the mother and daughter, Alba is grown enough to assign the former this imaginary yet voguish profession, which projects social superiority. It is clearly an attempt to cover inadequacies with a layer of high living through a profession cooler (in a young mind, that is) than what Alba is being trained for. Director Laura Schroeder’s Barrage, thus, is a direct account on soured mother-daughter relationships – not one, but two.
Barrage runs on a placid pace, with characters bearing a measured rhythm to their behaviours. There are three women, representing three generations. They are victims of a lot of things – of priorities, societal and familial demands, liberation and disparate ideas of living. There’s a method by which each of them guard their conscience. Ridden by the guilt of being a ‘runaway mom’, Catherine (Lolita Chammah) is in no denial. She declares that the fault is all hers and is willing to make amends. However, daughter Alba’s status quo with her is a little baffling. There is no apparent trajectory of a gradual improvement or heightening animosity through the course of Barrage. Alba’s attitude oscillates inanely between some kind of veiled hostility and silent, curious understanding. Not that a child cannot have conflicting clouds of emotions but Alba’s perplexed self doesn’t do much good in establishing her relationship with Catherine.
By setting most parts of her film in a chalet in the woods, Laura Schroeder also brings in an actual barrage to picture. It flows at a steady, mechanical pace and the volume is constant. A minor discrepancy in its ways can create havoc to people and wildlife around – which is a startling thought. One can’t resist from comparing the water body to Catherine’s mind – one that is free flowing, impressionable, intense, and unexpectedly meets a sudden artificial bump. Only to lose perspective, get habituated and tamed for no personal good. In the film’s best scene, Catherine develops severe discomfort when her daughter begins to instruct her coldly during a game of Tennis. Though seemingly selfish at her decisions, it also matters how Catherine’s story is explained to a third person by one who knows her. A barrage planner wouldn’t disown his idea for constructing one. Ditto for Catherine’s mother Elizabeth (Isabelle Huppert) who staunchly protects her individual philosophies.
Talking about Huppert (at her Huppertly best), we would want her to hog all frames with that luminous presence – which isn’t the case in Barrage. The narrative is such that her aura is felt throughout, as she is more of a saviour in picture and her home is the film’s physical destination. To give her due credit, the veteran actor lets her reel (and real) life daughter Lolita Chammah take all limelight. Chammah, on her part, is blessed with the clearest part in the enterprise. In a character with whom it may be hard to empathize, she comes out trumps with some raw, bitter emotions on display. She is heart-breaking in the portion where she drives down a topsy-turvy road in the night (which she never enjoyed doing) hunting for a chemist’s shop and ends up at her pet’s burial place. Even in a routine moment where she discusses her fondness for a name or profound ones of loss and bereavement, Chammah makes sheer love to the camera. As if it is all from the genes. Young Alba on the contrary struggles a little with a sketchy character. She takes off very well, muddles in between and takes a notable flight towards the finale.
Stories involving unkind mothers are seldom easy on paper – given the filters of social norms they undergo by default. “Why do I exist, if I wasn’t meant to be in the first place?” – stated or unstated questions as this are hard to answer objectively. Knowingly or unknowingly, similar films in the genre like, say, Autumn Sonata, Carrie and White Oleander tread a more traditional and/or over-the-top route. Barrage attempts to construct Catherine’s character with a less sanctified world view as the writing doesn’t compartmentalize her for her so-called unfair ways. It is evident how Laura Schroeder is sensitized that there are possible factors like depression, improper parenting, domestic violence, sexual/drug abuse or sheer, unapologetic ambition. Barrage addresses few of them with notable maturity as there as less labels thrown around.
Visually moody, Barrage is tad too lengthy for the point it intends to make. In a case that is almost an abduction, certain moments between Catherine and Alba do not strike a chord, although some are abundant with unexpected humour. The narrative is laced with some melodious (and familiar) musical numbers that add to the film’s tense atmosphere. The DOP is confident with some interesting hand-held shots and so is the production design with the interiors screaming some kind of lived-in disarray. There is this unrehearsed disconcertedness that every department seems to flaunt, much like the way Barrage is written. Having said that, the film’s haphazard flow doesn’t make you particularly unconcerned about its protagonists. Just that a wee bit of fine-tuning could have done wonders to this otherwise nuanced, affecting film.