Benedetta star Virginie Efira plays a woman leading a double life in drama Madeleine Collins which premiered in the Venice Days section of the Venice Film Festival today. Also doubling up in Venice by serving on the competition jury, Efira puts in a terrific performance in Antoine Barraud’s taut relationship pic that veers into thriller territory.
Efira’s translator is a sophisticated, busy working woman whose job is the perfect cover for her many trips away from home. But where’s home? Is it in Switzerland in a flat with Abdel (Quim Gutiérrez) and her young daughter? Or is it in a glamorous place in France, with Melvil (Bruno Salomone) and their two adolescent sons? The fact that she’s known as ‘Judith’ in the latter and ‘Margot’ in the former increases the intrigue.
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Much of Madeleine Collins’ early power is in its mysteries, and piecing the puzzle together keeps you engaged. How could she keep a pregnancy secret, for one thing? Once you figure out her motivations, it opens up a whole world of complex questions.
Meantime, there’s plenty to enjoy in Efira’s performance. While she’s a sophisticated, worldly woman who’s clearly used to being in control, there are hints that she’s starting to unravel at the seams, the pressure of two lives proving too much. When a friend from France and a friend from Switzerland coincidentally meet, she’s thrown into comedic confusion, forced to hide or lie (again). And yet this isn’t the portrait of a wholly selfish person, as we discover.
Barraud’s screenplay touches on themes including parenthood, class, privilege and gender. After all, it’s much more common — and perhaps practically and culturally possible — for men to have two families in different places, rather than women. By showing a mother who darts between two families, one a secret from the other, Barraud invites the audience to challenge their preconceptions about motherhood and independence. Invariably, these fathers spend more time with their children than their mother, who’s the one traveling around, ostensibly for her work. It’s an interesting exercise.
An unusual scene takes the tone, briefly, in a different direction. Judith/Margot goes to meet the forger (Nadav Lapid) who has been making her fake IDs, and he professes an attraction to her, demanding that she look at him, even if he can never aspire to her level. The scene has a mannered, mystical quality that’s at odds with the rest of the film, and it also seems faintly patronizing on a class level. But Lapid is certainly distinctive, and Barraud clearly has an eye for strong supporting cast: the great Jacqueline Bisset portrays our heroine’s strong-willed mother.
With its slick cinematography from Gordon Spooner and glamorous costumes from Claire Dubien, Madeleine Collins has the trappings of a Hollywood thriller — but the themes it explores don’t necessarily lead to an easy, satisfying ending. Like the life it depicts, it is somewhat stressful, with highs and lows — yet there’s also something addictive about it. You’ll want to discover more about Judith and Margot — not to mention find out why the film is called Madeleine Collins.