With a focus on characterisation and the importance of filial relationships, Bernard Bellefroid presents Melody, only his second feature film since his debut in 2009 with The Boat Race, a film in which a young boy attempts to rediscover human values of love taken from him by an abusive father. In Melody, Bellefroid proves to be adept at creating tender onscreen relationships, expounding this theme and exploring the mother-daughter relationship between a young girl and older woman.
In a bid to get off the streets and earn enough money to start up a hair salon, Melody (Lucie Debay) decides to become a surrogate mother for Emily (Rachael Blake), a wealthy businesswoman. As the pregnancy progresses, the two struggle with the childbirth-related traumas of their own individual pasts. Melody grew up a “sans X”, an abandoned child, her mother disappearing shortly after giving birth. She feels that, by giving Emily her baby, she would leave the child nothing more than the same feelings of pain and rejection that she herself experienced, a belief that produces erratic outbursts that fracture the film’s sweeping flow. Emily, meanwhile, has recently recovered from cancer, not only at the cost of her unborn child, but also the possibility of ever giving birth.
As the opening shot suggests, this film has very little to do with the prospective child, but everything to do with Melody coming to terms with her own motherless upbringing. She is shot from the ceiling, lying in the foetal position on a sanguine, womb-like bed, the film acting as her second nine-month term, maturing her and providing the maternal compassion she craves.
Emily is also in desperate need of companionship, her vast house decaying around her, full of toys that have never been used, and, poignantly, containing a ‘reborn doll’ as a substitute for the dead child. Melody’s constantly shifting demeanour towards the surrogacy, however, provides her with all of the highs and lows of raising a child. Melody transitions through different stages of childhood development, from a passive and inquisitive infancy to an argumentative preadolescence, resulting in her being locked in her room for wanting to run away, and finally to a mature, loving adulthood. This mother-daughter relationship is never overbearing, carefully constructed through long-shots during the first half of the film, before gradually including more close-ups as the two become emotionally co-dependent.
Bellefroid punctuates the film with moments of Melody gazing out over large bodies of water, another motif heavily associated with pregnancy and the need for a source of nurturing love. Sadly, the inclusion of these shots feels rather clumsy and jarring, disrupting the narrative flow of the empathy that is building between the two womenThankfully, the performances by both Debay and Blake are powerful enough to compensate for these directorial lapses, but it is a shame to see something so minor undermine the driving force of this moving and heartfelt film.
Melody provides a beautifully lyrical exploration into the necessity of familial love, clearly a personal subject for Bellefroid, and after winning the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury and Special Mention awards at the Montréal World Film Festival, it will be interesting to see where this success will take him.