When Awareness About Cinema and Affection is Complete
Cinema, at its best, can combine quality within its technique, speech, and emotion-building in such a profound or meticulous way that the viewer enters a cathartic state of immersion and connection during a projection. This thought was the first that came to me after we finished watching Madeleine (Raquel Sancinetti, 2022) for the first time, and since then, after rewatching the film three more times, this feeling has persisted.
Winner of the Fipresci jury at the 27th Regard Festival, Madeleine produces a generally positive feeling. There is pleasure in following Madeleine’s story and her friendship with the Quebecois director and screenwriter Raquel Sancinetti. As stated in the opening card, the duo has an age difference of 67 years, but there is such a deep connection between these two that observing their dynamics is an intense experience.
If Sancinetti were to leave her camera rolling indefinitely, as far as it was no longer possible, the charisma of the friendly relationship between Raquel and Madeleine would already conquer the viewer immediately, from the “Bonjour, Madeleine,” said by Raquel at the beginning. However, what happens to this work is precisely the opposite, and it is not just a solid main character and the camera that captures her daily life.
With layers of narrative depth and laborious technicalities, the short film creates a poetic universe for reality, mixing the language of documentary and stop-motion. Within that, the transitions are so fluid and organic that the director manages to leave a feeling that this metaphorical world, presented in the animation, exists and its protagonist inhabits it in all its colorful settings.
Madeleine shows us a Universe so tangible that you can almost sense the smell of the flowers and feel the sand under your feet. This feeling is mainly due to the meticulous editing done by Raquel herself, alongside Sharrin Mirsky. The cuts are done so smoothly that it is as if the sequences were all on the same day and time. The clothes changes mark the passing of time and make it clear to the audience that the days are changing.
Another clue it’s inside Madeleine’s speech. During the projection, she says she has different ages as the plot advances, also showing that time has changed. And with this editing feature, in addition to the impression of immersion in the story, a work keeps transforming itself into more complexity within every frame. When the film brings a discontinuous cut, it proves that the production crew does not underestimate the viewer.
Sancinetti creates spaces to be filled by the audience, where details about Madeleine’s past are never revealed. However, at the same time, it is possible to capture the main character’s feelings, who she is, and who she was, even without her description of her more than 100 years of life. The beauty here is that everything inside is more shown than said.
And in terms of the discontinuous cut, it is necessary to point out that, even in this extensive time transition, continuity exists in each frame precisely because there is a construction of unity in the scene. This logic, which permeates the entire film, sounds even more remarkable when you remember that the raw material was five years of recordings between Raquel and Madeleine, transformed into an animation filled with metaphors and details.
It is impressive to see how Madeleine’s personality traits, for example, are captured in stop-motion. The way the character moves and presents her facial expressions is rich, making her more understandable. Some resources, such as the way Madeleine adjusts her bathing suit, also bring the public closer to her. We can understand and empathize with that person shown on the screen because her humanity is present more significantly, but also in the minute things.
And because of all these tiny details inside the character’s construction, Raquel manages to transmit her impression of Madeleine to those who are watching. In addition, the documentary also works to leave temporal marks in its details. There is a surgical mask that flies, making it clear that filming occurred during the pandemic.
Another temporal sign is an “Ele Não” sticker on Raquel’s car, which reveals that the production was also shot during the period of the Brazilian presidential elections because this is a motto used to refuse support for the fascist candidate who ended up being the president of Brazil between 2018 and 2022. Sancinetti is meticulous in the details spread across the canvas, and this range of meanings that inhabit her images increases the complexity of the final material.
There’s a lot about Raquel in the movie, and there’s a lot about Madeleine. However, there is also much about life, society, human emotions, achievements, needs, and feelings. They are represented by these two points of view, full of life, but at different times. Raquel creates a complete narrative, yet there is no halfway in Madeleine; you can follow the emotions that progressively grow.
A notion of rhythm also conducts the actions in the film. The script does not forget to place its conflicts and outcomes, which makes the overall results complete. There is even tension between them at some point, but affection, decisions, and reflections about life too. That makes them complex characters inside a tied plot.
The creation of this script structure also reveals Sancinetti’s understanding of cinema: she goes beyond having an exciting character, asking her questions, listening, and then turning that into a short film. On the contrary, Sacinetti works hard to show art, her artistic style, and her concepts within her documentary. That is why Madeleine is such a complete work. There are graphs of emotions explored so that a narrative is born. All of this has been done from the recordings made by Raquel. It is for this reason that the production ends up impacting and moving. In the best sense, there is the manipulation of a story to fit in the cinematographic universe in such a way that it becomes cinema! However, the film does not do this by leaving Madeleine aside.
Another important factor that raises this production’s quality is that Madeleine has agency. In a way, the protagonist seems to control a little of the destiny of the short, even if it is in a few moments when Raquel hands her the camera, and it is possible to see how she sees what surrounds her and how she films herself. The emotion grows so much in such moments that tears come to the viewer’s eyes.
Perhaps this is one factor that connects the duo so much: reflection on existence. In the constant dialogue between the two friends, it is notable that, despite all the differences between them, there is an intense connection because both Raquel and Madeleine need to reflect on the world and what surrounds them. But Sancinetti doesn’t simply put these visions on screen.
Madeleine is a short film full of emotions but also technique. It’s the perfect meeting of two great friends and the ideal intersection of the best in audiovisual: a good story, good direction, and a session so passionate that, even after watching the film four times, it still moved me and made me cry. In this way, this choice of our jury touched me and made me very proud.
Enoe Lopes Pontes
Edited by Anne-Christine Loranger
© FIPRESCI 2023