Belleville Baby

Belleville Baby


Reviewed by: Scott Macdonald

A maelstrom of powerful, conflicting emotions is served up by a voice from the past. Belleville Baby opens with a recorded telephone conversation. It depicts two lovers - director Mia Engberg and Vincent. They split suddenly and had no contact for ten years - Vincent spent much of the time apart in prison. Their initial conversation is cut against a black and white filmed train journey, the past fleeing away. Vincent has one request before leaving for good: to remind him of memories of their life together before prison.

The film is a sequence of mini-vignettes between Engberg and Vincent's phone conversations. The film has been directed in a way that mixes dramatic voice-over with aptly chosen visual stimuli taken from the conversations or the feelings stirred up by them. It's an odd but effective visual strategy, with vocal performances strong enough to overcome initial structural concerns.

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Most effective is a parable - that of a lonely boy whose mother, father, uncle and friends stopped loving him one by one. It's illustrated using old, faded and torn photographs, a depiction of decaying organic memories, whether they be retold and mutated memes, stories or captured in semi-permanence but poorly-kept. It's illustrative of the ongoing relationship as it unfolds between Vincent and Engberg.

We're introduced to important events and places in both their lives - although each one's memories are incomplete, they complete one another's perspectives. It's also clear that Vincent has done his homework - seeking out Engberg's previous documentaries on social justice - "You really are an idealist!"

It's a fascinating meta-textual picture, visually filled with authentic talismans of their relationship. This skilfully and invisibly allows the viewer to become invested in them and to reflect on their sad, painful and often very kind interactions.

The bookend device, which uses the Greek mythology story of Orpheus forming a deal with Hades to save the soul of his lost Eurydice, seems portentous, but it's done well. Overall, the film elegantly portrays growing maturity and is an evocative portrait of former love and the way we barely recognise our past selves and the secrets we keep. It is a wonderful film.

Reviewed on: 25 Jun 2013
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The director looks back at her youthful romance in Paris with a small-time criminal.

Director: Mia Engberg

Year: 2013

Runtime: 76 minutes

Country: Sweden


BIFF 2013
EIFF 2013

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