TIFF Romania: Melody Review

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Melody (2014)

Cast: Rachael Blake, Lucie Debay, Don Gallagher
Director: Bernard Bellefroid
Country: Belgium | Luxembourg | France
Genre: Drama

Editor’s Notes: The following review is part of our coverage of the Transilvania International Film Festival. For more information visit http://tiff.ro/en and follow TIFF Romania on Twitter at @tiffromania.

From the overtly symbolic overhead establishing shot that captures the titular protagonist curled in the foetal position to the closing movement that ludicrously literalises the thematic trajectory of the film that falls between, Melody is a movie that haplessly tosses ideas and imagery at the screen in the futile hope they hold. They never do for more than a moment at all, and by the time the effort arrives at its dreadfully daft denouement, it’s quite clear it and its makers feel otherwise. Their cavalier commitment to an utterly untenable plot is so gung-ho as to almost earn acclaim in its own right, if only for the exquisite entertainment that’s in such po-faced presentation of positively potty material.

…Melody is a movie that haplessly tosses ideas and imagery at the screen in the futile hope they hold.

That’s not to suggest it’s a narrative without its possibilities; sharing scripting duties with Carine Zimmerlan, second-time director Bernard Bellefroid has conceived here a maternal melodrama whose three-tiered take on intergenerational identity is connected in ways of which Escher might approve. Too bad the film keeps missing the steps: laboriously layering the dynamic between the cash-strapped Melody and the flush infertile Emily, for whom she agrees to act as surrogate, Bellefroid builds neither these individuals nor the ties that bind in anything near as convincing a manner to make of their relationship much more than a symbolic structure, a resolutely rote interaction built less on interpersonal actuality than the forced conveyance of Very Important Ideas.

melody3_2-1That might be alright if those ideas carried more weight, but saddled with pseudo-profundity every step of the way, the film feels feebly unable to evince its philosophies beyond a basic blend of half-conceived conceits. They’re troubling, too: if Age of Ultron earned ire for its (re)presentation of a woman defined in terms of reproductive capacity, Melody ought to get the same treatment twice over. Specifically setting up Emily as a businesswoman who capably holds court over meetings of men, Bellefroid and Zimmerlan seek to define this character as a woman of independence and strength before saddling her with a sad sack sob story that renders her little more than a troubling trope.

It’s a terrible waste of Rachael Blake, whose talent in mining this character for what little emotional depth she has on the page is tossed away time and again on ill-advised shots that paint her as little more than a wounded walking womb: here clutching her inflated belly in the bath, there gazing forlornly through a montessori window, her Emily actively offends not in the self-loathing streak that constitutes her, but in the film’s apparent insistence on agreeing entirely. Never allowing her a life beyond her inability to beget another, Melody maddeningly gives licence to this loathsome view of women, all the while alarmingly assuming it’s acting as some sort of spokesperson and saviour.

…director Bernard Bellefroid has conceived here a maternal melodrama whose three-tiered take on intergenerational identity is connected in ways of which Escher might approve.

That the titular character herself is crafted by means just as eyebrow-archingly unwise—if, at least, never to quite the same thematically-troubling end—says much about just how resolutely off-base Melody manages to be. From misshapen motivations afforded ersatz explanation in lazy reveals to a vast logical chasm that’s emblematic of no thought whatsoever on either her part or the film’s, this is a protagonist who transpires to be entirely apt for the movie she’s named. Impactful in neither the emotional weight of its melodramatic stakes nor the mishandled ideas on motherhood it would do well to sit on in silence, Melody is your classic case of an awful idea insipidly executed, an often awful outing whose stretches of boredom seem a sweet relief by contrast.

3.4 Awful

Impactful in neither the emotional weight of its melodramatic stakes nor the mishandled ideas on motherhood it would do well to sit on in silence, Melody is your classic case of an awful idea insipidly executed, an often awful outing whose stretches of boredom seem a sweet relief by contrast.

  • 3.4
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About Author

Ronan Doyle is an Irish freelance film critic, whose work has appeared on Indiewire, FilmLinc, Film Ireland, FRED Film Radio, and otherwhere. He recently contributed a chapter on Arab cinema to the book Celluloid Ceiling, and is currently entangled in an all-encompassing volume on the work of Woody Allen. When not watching movies, reading about movies, writing about movies, or thinking about movies, he can be found talking about movies on Twitter. He is fuelled by tea and has heard of sleep, but finds the idea frightfully silly.