"Borderline": "Loneliness Tears Cracks of Madness, Even in Walls" By Léo Soesanto

in 57th Mannheim-Heidelberg

by Léo Soesanto

Rihanna’s song “Disturbia”, heard in many Mannheim shops (and surely in many shops around the world), was the perfect accompaniment to some of the most interesting films presented at Mannheim-Heidelberg Film Festival this year: “What’s wrong with me” — “Why do I feel like this?” — “I’m going crazy now”. And of course, the “Bum bum be-dum bum bum be-dum bum” line, suggesting a humming in the head. Those films focused on disturbed and lonely women who could be victims of society, pathology or a subtle mix of them such as in the delicate Vincent Pluss’ The Noise in My Head (Du bruit dans la tête). In Paula Hernandez’s Rain (Lluvia), a married woman suddenly decides she can no longer stand her life with her husband, fleeing to spend her days in her car with her bonsai tree. Kristina Buozyte’s The Collectress (Kolekcioniere) presents a strange case where a woman can only experiment emotions by watching her own videotaped image in her home movies. This promising pitch (and pathology) lead — of course — to twisted scenes of voyeurism and exhibitionism, but is poorly exploited: the film is barely saved by the actress Gabija Jaraminaite, impressive as an ice queen so cold that she burns everything she touches.

Borderline is possibly the most successful film of this trend on many levels. Character Kiki Labrèche is 30, single, lives in Quebec, has left her most stable relationship and suffers from a borderline personality disorder. That means (according to Wikipedia) that her moods shift all the time, that her behaviour is chaotic, that she has a self-destructive personality and a ruined sense of herself. Which explains her long history of turmoil — random sexual encounters with partners of either gender; alcohol; drugs; a bit of rock’n’roll. She feels transparent and has a hopeless affair with her French literature teacher. Her worst fear is happening: becoming like her mentally-ill mum, whom she once drew as a very Munchian crying face at school. Will she be saved, or will she save herself?

Director Lyne Charlebois turns this pathology into a dark sex comedy (let’s hear a bit of Rihanna again: “It’s like the darkness is light”) whose main quality is surely its immediate, in-your-face approach. Borderline is frank and honest, as only French-Canadian cinema can be. There’s a lot of gratuitous nudity, sex and foul-mouthed talk spoken in Quebec’s very distinct and refreshing French dialect — at least to the ears of your French-French correspondent. Yes, the line “would you like to enter me” is here disarmingly charming. Kiki’s shaky inner world is well-conveyed by the director via multi-layered scenes with precise camera movements allowing past and present to collide as in a drug trip. Oddly enough, the film is reminiscent of a grey and snowy fairy tale with its flashbacks to school, its childhood drawings and its sleepy, wild-child character who doesn’t suspect that her charming prince is the baker next door, who offers her a surrealistic breakfast worthy of Hansel & Gretel’s diabetic nightmare. Kiki is a dark Amélie Poulain; compared to her, that other ultimate singleton, Bridget Jones, seems distinctly bland.

Borderline could have just been plainly indecent in its rawness. But it never lacks a tender perspective on her character, especially when it shows us her interactions with her bad-tempered grandmother. Kiki may crack, but she’s not out to “make the world crack with her”, as F. Scott Fitzgerald put it in “The Crack-Up”. There’s a great level of clever details — the way of embracing or not embracing someone, a specific birthday gift, a clown’s makeup — which provide great insights into the characters. And no review of Borderline can fail to comment on its greatest strength — its lead actress, Isabelle Blais, delivers a wonderful, rich performance — sexy, numb, energetic, playful, brave, innocent and tragic all at once. She steals the show, perfectly suiting her self-centered character and the fact that, but for one, all the men in the film are pretty useless. One of her last scenes shows us that even telling the truth to someone who can’t answer back is definitely painful. Blais’ acting and Charlebois’ direction make it beautiful. “Crack, baby, crack / Show me you’re real”, as David Bowie viciously sang in “Cracked Actor”. Kiki looks on her own cracks, and finally makes the bold move to close them in order to be real. And to be herself.