Film review: Madame

French novelist and filmmaker Amanda Sthers’ first attempt at an English language movie, Madame, is a dull affair with few redeeming factors aside from the beautiful Parisian cinematography.

Sep 01, 2017, updated Sep 01, 2017
Toni Collette in Madame. Photo: Studio Canal

Toni Collette in Madame. Photo: Studio Canal

Anne (Toni Collette) is a vain American socialite living in Paris with her wealthy older husband Bob (Harvey Keitel). In an attempt to sell a valuable painting to an affluent French couple, the couple prepare to hold a dinner party.

With the untimely arrival of Bob’s son, the guest list grows to 13, which of course is bad luck for the superstitious Anne. She resolves the situation by reluctantly inviting her Spanish maid Maria (Rossy De Palma) to join.

A party ensues in which no one seems able to converse like a normal human. Maria, posing as a family friend, is contrastingly charming and bubbly, which instantly catches the eye of art consultant David (Michael Smiley), who mistakes her for Spanish royalty.

Madame never seems to get out of first gear and is plagued with problems.

Anne is narcissistic and cruel in her attempts to undermine Maria and David’s burgeoning relationship, with her attempts at humour often appearing mean-spirited. Collette’s performance is uncharacteristically flat, but she isn’t helped by the lifeless script and lacklustre supporting cast.

Likewise, Keitel is forced to work hard with what he is given and his relationships with the characters around him, particularly his family, are virtually non-existent.

The film is shot beautifully, set in and around the Parisian suburbs. Régis Blondeau’s cinematography is one of the few highlights of the film, although it is debatable whether this is because it adds to the film or simply showcases Paris as a holiday destination.

The only real joy to be found throughout the film is in the performance of De Palma, the Spanish actress made famous in the ’80s by her unconventional beauty. Her presence adds a humanity the film is otherwise sadly lacking, with Maria the only character who actually feels real. And despite other attempts at humour, she is also the only one that manages to raise chuckles from the audience.

With shallow characters and a plot that never gains traction, it falls to De Palma to carry the entire film.

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