JEONJU, North Jeolla Province -- Director Laura Schroeder has grabbed attention with her second feature film, “Barrage,” bringing together the real-life mother and daughter pair of French star Isabelle Huppert and Lolita Chammah.
The film had its Asian premiere Friday and is competing against nine others in the international competition of the Jeonju International Film Festival. Schroeder spoke with The Korea Herald there at a coffeehouse on Saturday.
Laura Schroeder, director of “Barrage” (JIFF)
“I didn’t actually think about (Huppert) first for the movie, I actually cast Lolita (Chammah) first” after seeing her striking performance in a play, Schroeder explained.
When the idea came up naturally of Chammah’s famous mother Huppert -- especially well known to Korean audiences for her works with director Hong Sang-soo -- for the role in the film, “I thought it’d be interesting,” the director from Luxembourg said. “Especially with (Chammah’s) character of Catherine trying to break free from all sorts of things”
“The film’s not their relationship,” the director is quick to point out. “It’s just from the connection that they have, a few things inspired me.”
Schroeder was careful not to be too intimidated in making her first adult drama, the previous being a children’s adventure movie.
“I try not to think ‘Oh my God, she (Huppert) has so much more experience than I do,’” Schroeder said. “I tried not to pressure myself with that -- just thinking if she accepted the movie, (it) means she wants to do the film, means she likes the script, means she wants to work with me.”
The focus of “Barrage” is Chammah’s character Catherine, who returns to her home in Luxembourg after having abandoned her daughter 10 years prior to be raised by her grandmother Elisabeth, played by Huppert. As Catherine seeks to regain a relationship with her daughter, Elisabeth reluctantly agrees to a two-hour outing between the estranged pair to a park, which Catherine takes and turns into three days at a lakeside cabin.
The film is all about the mothers and daughters’ respective relationships, which the director says she emphasizes through her choice of the intimate 4:3 aspect ratio rather than the more conventional widescreen that would move significance to the landscape.
Lolita Chammah (right) and Themis Pauwels star in “Barrage.” (JIFF)
Catherine’s past is never fully explained, though it appears as if she’s come out the other side of a long drug haze. The film, co-written by the director with French novelist Marie Nimier, actually explains quite little.
“I always knew that what I didn’t want was a psychological story in the way that you … explain the backstory a lot,” Schroeder told The Korea Herald. “That’s what I don’t like in movies: when everything is explained too much.”
While the audience wants to sympathize with Catherine, her choices seem erratic and there is a tension that she -- perhaps her sobriety and sanity -- could all fall apart at any moment. The director describes her as a person who “at first sight might not be a person you’d like to connect with.”
“You feel like you want to follow the character,” she adds, “even though there might be something that disturbs you.”
Lolita Chammah stars in “Barrage.” (JIFF)
Catherine’s good intentions in regaining her relationship with her daughter are irresistible. At the same time, she is wrought with jealousy over her daughter’s relationship with her mother.
“It’s not a black and white thing,” Schroeder said. “It’s very easy for (Catherine) to blame it on her mother … that’s the process she’s going through in the film -- to realize she messed up.”
It would be all too easy to portray the grandmother as cruel or at fault, but Schroeder packs “Barrage” with an unease and nuance that would never allow that. “I think everybody just tried to do what they could, to do their best,” the director said. “Maybe that’s an idea in the film: that they can try, and sometimes it just doesn’t work out.”
Isabelle Huppert (left) and Themis Pauwels star in “Barrage.” (JIFF)
“Barrage” will show again at the Jeonju International Film Festival, which runs through Saturday, at 9 p.m. on Tuesday and Friday. The director will answer questions after the Tuesday screening. The film is set to be released in France and Luxembourg in July.
By Kevin Lee Selzer (email@example.com