Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Amanda Sthers
Stars: Toni Collette, Harvey Keitel, Rossy de Palma, Michael Smiley, Tom Hughes.
This slightly disappointing romantic comedy explores themes of class, status, prejudice, family, societal privilege, romance and the possibility of happy endings in real life.
Anne (Toni Collette) and Bob (Harvey Keitel) are a married couple who divide their time between New York and their lavish home in Paris. But times are tough for the former golf instructor, and Bob is being forced to reluctantly sell a prized Caravaggio. The abrasive and self-absorbed Anne is preparing a sumptuous dinner party. But the arrival of Bob’s novelist son Steven (Tom Hughes), from a previous marriage, means that Anne has thirteen for dinner. Uncomfortable with the odd number she entices her maid Maria (Rossy de Palma, a regular in the films of Almodovar, to play a mysterious European noble woman to make up numbers. Despite being given a stern warning by Anne not to draw attention to herself, Maria’s exuberant style and personality catches the fancy of uptight British art dealer David (Michael Smiley, from Free Fire, etc) and they flirt throughout dinner.
When Anna learns that a romance is blossoming between the unlikely pair she sets out to sabotage the relationship. And Maria herself feels a little uncomfortable with David’s belief that she is a noblewoman, but her efforts to correct his mistaken assumption are ignored.
Madame is the sophomore feature and English language debut from French writer/director Amanda Sthers, whose previous film was the comedy Je Vais te Menquer (aka You’ll Miss Me) in 2009. Sthers maintains a leisurely pace throughout and the film rarely moves out of first gear and misses the mark as a full-on satire of social class and mores. There are too many subplots woven throughout the narrative, and some of them go nowhere. Many of the characters are cliches or stereotypes. The ending doesn’t deliver the satisfactory ending that Steven hints at.
Collette delivers an exaggerated performance as the cold, controlling and aloof Anne, and she comes across as an unlikeable character. There is little chemistry between her and Keitel, who seems a little miscast and uncomfortable here in a rather underwritten role that lacks his usual strength. De Palma brings her Maria to life, and Sthers effectively uses her unusual looks and tall stature as a source of some physical comedy. But her performance is also full of empathy and insight, and she is the true centrepiece of the film. Smiley brings a bemused charm to his performance.
The interiors are lavish and there is some wonderful production design from Herald Najar. Sthers’ regular cinematographer Regis Blondeau makes the most of some gorgeous Parisian cityscapes, and he bathes the interiors in warm hues.
Madame is an undemanding romantic comedy, the sort of thing that the French do so much better, with much more style, rhythm and bubbly humour.