Madame

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jane Fae

Madame
"The script is cleverly done, the key relationships well and economically drawn; and while this is clearly comedy, it does not pull its punches." | Photo: Bluefox Entertainment

When eventually I am elected to the post of Princess of Everything – as must surely be my destiny – I shall demand that films such as Madame come with a full and frank health warning.

For what? Because it is a pretty decent film all round. A darkly humorous tale of toxic marriage and petty snobbery and financial troubles, delivering some sharp social commentary along the way.

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Anne (Toni Collette) and Bob (Harvey Keitel) are a well-heeled American couple attempting to put some spice back into their waning marriage by taking up residence in Paris. Not that it seems to be doing them much good, as both demonstrate rather more interest in their respective paramours than in re-building their relationship.

This otherwise ordinary tale of everyday loathing is kicked into angry disarray by the unexpected arrival of Bob's prodigal son, Steven (Tom Hughes). Anne, planning the perfect dinner party with guests from Parisian society's crème de la crème, is faced with the sudden awful prospect of 13 guests sitting down at table. So she improvises: insists that her loyal maid, Maria (Rossy de Palma) sit down with them, thereby bringing the numbers up to 14.

Maria's protests are met with Madame's insistence that she do: and if she wishes not to be found out, she should “be really impossible, unpleasant”. Something tells me that director Amanda Sthers does not have a very high opinion of the privileged classes.

Still, all might yet go well, if not for Steven, who seems to take delight in playing the role of Puck: the instigator of mischief and misdirection. On a mission to outrage both father and step-mum, he declares publicly that he is to be engaged to a woman who, we later discover, is his father's mistress. At the same time, he is busy setting Maria up for a fall by telling wealthy Englishman David Morgan (Michael Smiley) her real secret: that she is actually daughter to a fantastically wealthy family and then later, when David develops an infatuation with her, giving him her phone number.

The stage is therefore set for a romance based on false premises, while in the background, Anne grows increasingly angry, partly because of the social gaffe in which she is now complicit and partly, as her psychoanalyst suggests, because she is jealous of her maid.

The script is cleverly done, the key relationships well and economically drawn; and while this is clearly comedy, it does not pull its punches when it comes to taking apart privilege and pretention. Maria's claim that she is “worth as much as Madame” is rebutted by her friend and fellow maid telling her that “They don't love people like you,” and this scene is instantly juxtaposed with images of Madame and Monsieur out and about with their respective lovers.

Along the way, there is a nod and a cute inversion of the Cinderella narrative. It can hardly be missed that Maria must be dressed up in Madame's finery in order to attend the dinner party which, as the striking of the clock suggests, she then departs at midnight. But unlike Cinderella, she is not some slip of a girl: she is who she is and that includes her ungainly size 8 feet which must, perforce, be encased in her own shoes as nothing else will fit.

It is a part that might almost be written for Miranda Hart – but Rossy de Palma, alternately fearful, flirtatious, meek and assertive, fills it perfectly.

As exercise in film-making I cannot fault it. And of course, it comes with an assortment of gorgeous Parisian locations which just adds to its attractions.

So why the caveat? The answer – very personal – is that I have a horror of the sort of comedy of embarrassment that is present in this film. I feel...not just for poor Maria, but for her would-be Prince...because I fear the moment of disillusion and I know that even if all is to end happily ever after, that instant must always precede the ending. It is for that very reason that I sometimes find myself steering clear of the rommiest of romcoms: because I haven't the stamina to follow all the reverses that our hero and heroine must work through.

I am a wuss, over-invested in kittens and girls in white dresses – not to mention snowflakes and rain-bedecked roses.

I found this film hard to watch – but that is on me, and in the end, I enjoyed it greatly.

Though whether it is a happy ending for David and Maria: well that is a spoiler, and if you want to find out, you'll have to go watch it for yourself.

Reviewed on: 28 Feb 2018
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Madame packshot
A wealthy American persuades her Spanish maid to pretend to be a noblewoman in order to make up the numbers at dinner, only to have an English aristocrat fall in love with her.

Director: Amanda Sthers

Writer: Amanda Sthers, Matthew Robbins,

Starring: Rossy de Palma, Toni Collette, Harvey Keitel, rossy de Palma, Michael Smiley, Tom Hughes

Year: 2017

Runtime: 91 minutes

Country: France

Festivals:

Glasgow 2018

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