IN THIS WORLD where political correctness is invading expression like a disease, Madame is a nifty foray into the self-focused, idle and rather stupid rich, which is carefully written, beautifully cast and really funny and pointed. It’s a celebration of beauty that doesn’t kowtow to market-related bland norms and it’s an engagement with the kind of stories the world wants to hear.
Maria (Rossy de Palma) is the head maid to the Fredericks, a superrich family who come from New York and stay in Paris. The wife, Anne (Toni Collette), is the pampered second wife of Bob (Harvey Keitel) and psychoses and sex, dalliances and the next toy to keep them occupied is high on their agenda. As is doing the right thing and taking into consideration what other people think. It’s a life of blatant dishonesty, much money and a superficial regard for other people.
Enter Steven (Tom Hughes), the lazy good for nothing son of Bob, from a previous marriage. He’s young enough to want to screw anything that moves, and old enough to be earning his own credibility if not income. But he’s coasting on the wealth of daddy and existing in the guise of being a writer. And he drops in for a dinner, unexpectedly.
The super wealthy of Paris don’t necessarily do impromptu well – certainly not according to this tale, and the presence of Steven at the dinner table means that there will be 13 guests seated. This cannot be: 13 is an unlucky number! And thus the decision to rapidly repurpose Maria the buxom Spanish maid, with an extraordinary physical presence and a dragon tattoo, into a fake guest, complete with rainbow-coloured stilettos and fire-engine red lipstick, so that all is well and good and the dinner adheres to protocol.
But there’s a devil in the detail and protocol is tossed to the wind, as everything turns into a comedy of social errors very rapidly: Maria, with her asymmetrical face and her strong moral values steals the show, unwittingly woos David Morgan (Michael Smiley) an art dealer who has to be appeased because there’s a tender deal involving what may be a real Caravaggio under the family’s loupe. All the guests, with the exception of Maria are annoying and cloying to various degrees. It’s a dinner party full of oversexed, overmoneyed grownups – and a child prodigy – who characteristically put knives into their loved ones’ backs as they contemplate whose partner they will poach next for their own sexual ends. It’s like something out of Gunter Grass’s Tin Drum as it resonates with the recent John Lithgow/Salma Hayek film, Dinner with Beatriz.
The madness of the evening is saved by Maria under the spell of a spot too much wine. Lots of romance, cruelty and one-upmanship (or womanship) evolves out of the encounter and ultimately a reckoning that puts Maria and Anne as specimens of womanhood on a par. And guess who comes off second best?
It’s a lovely story which is told with a deft hand and a strong sense of social values. It’s cruel and humiliating as it tells uncomfortable social truths and offers a sense of principle in the world which is not about how thin, pretty or rich one is.
- Madame is directed by Amanda Sthers and features a cast headed by Ary Abittan, Jay Benedict, Anissa Bonnefont, Sue Cann, Toni Collette, Joséphine de la Baume, Rossy de Palma, Tim Fellingham, James Foley, Violaine Gillibert, Matthew Gledhill, Tom Hughes, Harvey Keitel, Guila Clara Kessous, Noah Labastie, Guy Maruani, Stanislas Merhar, Salomé Partouche, Brendan Patricks, Philippine Pierre-Brossolette, Sonia Rolland, Ariane Séguillon, Michael Smiley, Alex Vizorek, Ginnie Watson, Eric Zargniotti and Amélie Grace Zhurkin. It is written by Amanda Sthers and adapted for film by Sthers in collaboration with Matthew Robbins. Produced by Cyril Colbeau-Justine, it features creative input by Matthieu Gonet (music), Régis Blondeau (cinematography), Nicolas Chaudeurge (editing), Michael Laguens (casting) and Herald Najar (production design). Release date: April 26 2018.