MADAME (France 2017) **1/2
Directed by Amanda Sthers
A film shot in English with a Paris setting boasting acting international talents like Toni Collette and Harvey Keitel featuring a comic performance by Pedro Almodovar regular Rossy de Palma (WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN) shows much promise in the beginning as writer/director Amanda Sthers prepares the setting of her black comedy/bedroom farce.
The film begins when a scenic backdrop of Paris where a seasoned married couple, Anne (Collette) and Bob Fredericks (Keitel) ride their bikes while bickering constantly. They are adding a little spice (likely more pepper than salt) to a waning marriage. Anne and Bob, a wealthy and well-connected American couple, move into a manor house in romantic Paris. While preparing a particularly luxurious dinner for sophisticated international friends, the hostess discovers there are thirteen guests, owing to the sudden unexpected appearance of her step-son. Shades of Bunuel’s DISCREET CHARM OF THE BOURGEOUSIE. Panic-stricken, Anne insists her loyal maid Maria (De Palma) disguise herself as a mysterious Spanish noble woman to even out the numbers. But a little too much wine, and some playful chat, lead Maria to accidentally endear herself to a dandy British art broker (David Morgan). Their budding romance will have Anne chasing her maid around Paris and finally plotting to destroy this most unexpected and joyous love affair.
The film bursts into life whenever Rossy de Palma is in the spotlight. Reason too, is that Sthers knows her potential and taps it appropriately. The result is the film’s funniest part is the dinner scene when she, the maid, pretending to be Spanish royalty tells two off-coloured jokes about the 3 different phases of the female and male. Nervous yet confident, De Palma, the best thing in this comedy portrays a maid on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Kietel and Collette appear less interesting, again due to their underwritten roles.
MADAME lives up to its French title. The wardrobe, production sets (the interiors of the mansion) and the exterior shots are all beautiful to look at. The film, however, is shot largely in English, with the characters only occasionally breaking out into French and Spanish,
The film has many stories on display. The foremost is the Madame chasing the maid trying to break up an affair, another her relationship with her husband and yet another the relationship the couple has with their stiff-upped lipped novelist son, Steven (Tom Hughes). The problem with so many stories is that the film gets distracting and the audience never knows what the main issue is at hand or what the goal of the plot is. One benefit however, is that there are more humorous set-ups to mine.
Sthers keeps her film light, avoiding more critical issues like the conflict between the upper and lower class. It is clear Anne cannot achieve the romance Maria gets within a second, but the film has her try to destroy rather than analyze it. As expected, MADAME ends up more a crowd pleaser than a more ambitious satire of manners.