The great lady in black of the French song inspires Mathieu Amalric with a biopic sketch in the form of a declaration of love. Sublime.
As it is difficult to pin down the singular charm of Barbara’s words, melodies and voice, it is equally perilous to sum up the poisonous and heady beauty of her weird biopic. This is perhaps the most striking proof of the success of Mathieu Amalric’s daring venture. Cleverly refusing to yield to the agreed cinematographic hagiography, the actor-director composes a very modern elegy, a succession of moments, a sum of dotted lines which draw in an impressionist way the complex and mysterious silhouette of the singer.
Because, as the film demonstrates brilliantly, Barbara is in itself a character, a mask to put on, a suit to wear that allows the bruised woman to become the insolent lover of words and music. To do this, Amalric builds a skillful device, a kind of movie in the movie where an actress (Jeanne Balibar) plays to be Barbara. We fear the painful distancing to avoid any emotion. It’s the opposite. Intermingling archival footage, re-enactment work and filming fiction, Amalric culminates in a composite film, totally carnal and sensory.
A very personal form of poetry, a game of hide-and-seek between the true and the false, which perfectly marries the feigned lightness and the formidable gravity of his songs. Phenomenal, Jeanne Balibar lives the film with a sweet irony and a disarming grace. As Balibar as Barbara, it merges into the character, detaches or amuses and suddenly seems to hug literally on screen in troubling sequences where “the original” and the copy mingle. Like La Chambre Bleue but especially Tour , the look of Amalric here is more dreamlike than ever, almost esoteric. Barbara is an ode to a ghost, a sublime session of musical and cinematic spiritualism