(This article contains minor spoilers, but nothing that should diminish your enjoyment of the film.)
Madeline’s Madeline is mind-boggling.
The phrase is seldom used as a compliment, though it takes experiencing the film first-hand to see why it fits. Josephine Decker’s Thou Wast Mild and Lovely follow-up is decidedly Brechtian, opening by distancing itself from an audience who, by now, would’ve no doubt caught wind of its charms (the film was a hit at Sundance in January and Fantasia and it is in theaters today). “The emotions you are having are not your own,” we’re told up front, by a black nurse played by Okwui Okpokwasili, shot in angelic close up as the frame shimmers in and out of focus. “They are someone else’s.” We begin to experience physical space — a house, a room, the natural world — from a disorienting perspective. On the ground. Upon a table. Vantages we aren’t used to. Okpokwasili clarifies, as we crawl towards an unseen woman and her ironing board, surrounded by what feels like a half-dressed set: “You are not the cat. You are inside the cat.” Curious.
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“And soon, mechanically, oppressed by the gloomy day and the prospect of a sad future, I carried to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had let soften a piece of madeleine. But at the very instant when the mouthful of tea mixed with cake-crumbs touched my palate, I quivered, attentive to the extraordinary thing that was happening in me. A delicious pleasure had invaded me, isolated me, without my having any notion as to its cause. It had immediately made the vicissitudes of life unimportant to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory, acting in the same way that love acts, by filling me with a precious essence: or rather this essence was not in me, it was me.” –Excerpt from Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust, translated by Lydia Davis
“You are not the cat, you’re inside the cat. The emotions you are having are not your own. They are someone else’s.” These are the first few lines spoken at us by a blurry, distorted KK (Okwui Okpokwasili) as she stares into the lens, putting us into a trance. Her soft-spoken words clash with Proust’s quote about madeleines. When we receive a sensation that is triggered from an outside source (like a madeline, or a cat) is that sensation housed inside us or are we made up of it? What if we apply those questions to acting? Does acting entail transforming into someone else from the outside in, or finding the character from inside and growing outwards?
These are the kinds of questions that have long preoccupied the art of acting and they are front and centre in Josephine Decker’s brilliant third feature Madeline’s Madeline.
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The nightmare that is 2018 is almost over! Current events may be terrifying, but movies have been pretty damn good this year. Each day this week, a different member of the /Film team will be counting down his or her favorite films of the year so far, and now it’s my turn. My favorite films this year run the gamut from indie curiosities to films of absolute horror. And just to keep things from being a complete dour-fest, there’s a very nice movie about a very nice bear as well. These are the top 10 movies of 2018 so far, according to Chris Evangelista.
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When Madeline’s Madeline premiered at Sundance earlier this year, it was hailed as one of the festival’s best and boldest films. But simply reading a review couldn’t do justice to the weird, surreal, mind-bending movie that is Josephine Decker‘s ode to the theater.
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