Melodrama can be something of a tainted word in cinema, as a term used predominantly as a form of criticism, to point out when a film is overblown and hammy. But when done well it can make for truly compelling cinema, as the likes of Asghar Farhadi and Pedro Almodovar can attest to. In the case of Jeanne Herry’s directorial debut Elle L’Adore, this trashy, extravagant narrative is more akin to that of a soap opera, but told in a creative, ingenious way, playing on the notion of naturalism amidst the farcical set of circumstances. It’s an approach Susanne Bier took in her forthcoming picture A Second Chance, but where that faltered, this triumphs – never overstepping the sense of realism that just about grounds this feature.

Sandrine Kiberlain plays Muriel Bayen, a compulsive (and somewhat sensationalist) storyteller who spends her days as a beautician, and nights as a worshipper of singer-songwriter Vincent Lacroix (Laurent Lafitte). Her fanatical dedication of the pop star knows no bounds, and it’s that irrational devotion that comes into play when he randomly knocks on her door in the middle of the night, as following an incident with his girlfriend Julie (Lou Lesage), Vincent turns to Muriel for help, knowing that her blind loyalty could be his one and only route out of the living hell he has got himself in to.

Though taking on the form of a film noir – with the likes of Double Indemnity and Strangers on a Train definite influences, there’s a frivolity that exists, an element of farce and whimsicality that provides a light comic touch to counteract the suspenseful nature. Given the narrative however, you do feel on edge for most of this production, which is helped along by how wildly unpredictable Muriel is. She comes across as relatively normal, and seemingly kind-hearted, but her unchartered admiration for Vincent can make her act a little unorthodox. Kiberlain shines in the role, as somebody thrown into this almost inconceivable situation, provoking hypothetical questions about how would we react if our idol knocked on our door and asked for a favour. She masters the reaction, maintaining that sense of ineffable mesmerisation, while trying to play it cool and act like it’s no big deal. There’s an equal sense of fear and delirium, with a dose of disbelief thrown in for good measure.

She’s also extremely likeable and easy to root for – which, somehow, is also the case for Vincent, which is of great commendation for Lafitte. He makes a big mistake and is immensely dishonest in the aftermath, but you can’t help but wish for him to get away with his misdemeanours. Nonetheless, Herry can be accused of biting off a little more than she can chew, and while there’s so much going on in the main crux of the narrative, we needlessly delve into a superfluous romantic sub-plot concerning the two detectives working on the case, deviating away from the principal story; the one that actually matters.

But it’s a small blemish on an otherwise accomplished debut for Herry, as a picture that is so remarkably well paced and structured. There are a myriad of twists and turns and she never once loses you, as you remain completely captivated and intrigued as to how this tale will conclude. Absurd this may be, but you abide by it throughout, and though the finale is a touch unsatisfying, given the difficulty in tying up all loose ends where a film such as this is concerned, Herry can just about be excused in this instance.