‘A solo woman facing the void’ is the expression someone used during the film’s Q&A, when describing herself. The tag applies equally to the leading character in Barrage, Catherine (Lolita Chammah), a woman in her thirties trying to reconnect with her daughter, who had been raised by her grandmother for most of her life. Seen from a wider perspective, it looks a lot like a movie about a single mother and the struggle to prevent family-inherent traumas. But it’s just as much about the struggle with oneself.
Story-wise, there’s very little to say: Catherine shows up and wants to spend time with her daughter, to the disapproval of her own mother, both on and off-screen, Elisabeth (Isabelle Huppert). A few hours turns into half a day which turns into a weekend, as the two struggle to feel at ease with one another. And then the movie ends.
A more cynical person than myself could claim that the whole experience represents what European films are denigrated for: almost two hours of nothing happening. But that assessment would only be partially true. Overlong at its current run-time and with a heavy observational period that spans for about an hour in the middle, the movie tests your patience. But it also builds on the bony relationship of the mother-daughter couple, in real-to-life process that just is painfully slow. Wrought with tension due to the expectation of failure on Catherine’s part, even as she does come short, there is no sense of artificial doom, only for it to be swapped by some deeper recognition in the last three scenes. Rather the movie sets up a finale that offers relevant insights into the further dynamic of the characters, the generationally conditioned aspects of who they are and where they will go from there.
Somehow, I find myself writing that it all works, in spite of its shortcomings. The gorgeous scenery, the restrained performances and some unexpected, but well-suited musical arrangements come together into a coherent experience. It’s going to be an acquired taste, flying close to artistic pretention, because of the pacing. Perhaps what swayed me was the metaphorical use of tennis in framing the relationship of the three women, a sport that’s recognized for the battle one wages not so much with his or her opponent, but with oneself.
It’s not an exciting movie, in a sense. Yet there are moments where it manages to connect and resonate, which has the power to outdo mere excitement. So yes, there is some reward at the end of this particular winding road.