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Madeline’s Madeline review: an out-of-body experience

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“Jung says: “In all chaos, there is a cosmos. In all disorder, a secret order. The pendulum of the mind swings between sense and nonsense, not between right and wrong.””

It’s 2019 and Josephine Decker (once described as “the unholy marriage of Ingmar Bergman and David Lynch”) is finally getting wider exhibition for her work.

Experimental approach to cinema should be welcomed in a drowning sea of similar perspectives. Butter on the Latch and Thou Wast Mild and Lovely are striking visual woven tales of erotic, sinister and violent majesty and idiosyncratic horror.

American independent film has a voice and Decker is screaming into the void.

Madeline’s Madeline is like an out of body experience. Through blurry, unfocused camera work, it’s like watching a dissociative episode through someone else’s eyes. Not quite the eyes, like the eye sockets, as the world shakes and the anger bubbles.

This is art alone, capturing declining mental health on film in a manner of which makes the hairs on your arm stand on end. Madeline (Helena Howard), a young, gifted and mentally unwell stage performer is part of a prestigious theatre group, headed by an acclaimed theatre director Evangeline (Molly Parker.) Evangeline (Parker) embraces young Madeline and her powerful raw aura, as Madeline is pushed and pulled from stage to life, while her deteriorating mental health pushes her and her mother (Miranda July) to the brink.

Decker, backed by Oscilloscope and MUBI, proves experimental film can still thrive and is still as resilient as ever, bringing elements of reality and surreal imaginative worlds together succinctly. The lines of reality and performance blur as art, family, growth, mental health and imagination merge.

Not often do we see cinematography so intertwined with the plot as we do by longtime Decker collaborator, Ashley Connor (also responsible for The Miseducation of Cameron Post), drifting in close, blurring and shifting focus – amplifying the loss of control.

The cat is a central element to the role of Madeline, as she prowls and purrs. From the opening sequence to the finale, the cat is symbolic. Embodying a representation of femininity used frequently in cinema, from The Cat People to Dogtooth, the cat represents the manipulative and mischievous elements of Madeline, as Madeline represents them of the cat.

It’s a breakthrough debut from Helena Howard who is startlingly brilliant as the effervescent Madeline, alongside Molly Parker who is uncompromising in her intended discomfort and Miranda July who suffers well often as Regina, Madeline’s mother.

I sense further plaudits for Josephine Decker down the line. She continues to make challenging independent films that are unconventional in structure and plot, compelling and an accessible blend of avant-garde and arthouse drama.

4/5 flicks.

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