Madeline's Madeline ★★★★

After quiet some time I got to see an experimental indie which I can call a modern classic. ‘Madeline’s Madeline’ is a mind bending psychological thriller directed by Josephine Decker. Firstly, it’s a movie about single mother Regina (Miranda July), her irrepressible teenage daughter Madeline (a brilliant newcomer Helena Howard), and the unspecified mental illness that’s driven a wedge between them. On another level it’s a commentary on itself, with Decker satirizing her own plot points and metaphors.

“The emotions you are having are not your own, they are someone else’s. You are not the cat — you are inside the cat.” The movie sets the tone right from the first line and you know what you can expect from the rest of it. We see Madeline acting like a cat in her home and her mother playing along with her. You have to wonder if she is just doing a routine from her physical theatre troupe or really has forgotten the boundaries of stage and real world. Regina’s maternal concern often erodes into outright paranoia each time Madeline refuses a meal or uses a sanitizer, and her helplessness only reinforces the distance she feels from her daughter. To make things worse, Evangeline, the woman running the theatre group decides to collaborate with Madeline to make a show about the teenager’s problems with her mother which soon resonates to being “The Madeline Show”. Maybe it’s Decker’s way of reflecting on her own process; how her movie is aptly titled ‘Madeline’s Madeline’ and the process that went in the making. She could be questioning the toxic idea that “one cannot narrate the story of another”.

‘Madeline’s Madeline’ is also technically astounding. Ashley Connor’s cinematography is fluid and spiralling like a Gaspar Noe film. The frames are often peripherally smudged like how you remember a dream. As a storyteller Decker isn’t “the cat”, she is “inside the cat”; bringing a new form of cinematic language that functions as a window and a mirror at the same time. Maybe watch it just for a sheer tour de force performance by Helena Howard.