Madame is a film set in Paris, dealing with love across social classes and is based on the book by Amanda Sthers, who has adapted and directed the novel for screen. Madame centres on a wealthy American couple’s maid, who joins their Parisian social circle after posing as a guest at a dinner party. On the unexpected arrival of her step-son, and to avoid catering for thirteen guests… Anne decides to add a place at the table for her maid, giving her a Cinderella makeover and some simple instructions. When Maria inadvertently becomes the life of the party, the household is thrown into disarray as her secret identity becomes crucial to a business transaction and the linchpin to their reputation.
This write-up makes Madame seem laden with potential… and it is… unfortunately, it doesn’t measure up to the calamity of comedy it could’ve been. Rossy De Palma is an absolute character, whose offbeat charm, unusual features and burlesque presence underwrite this whimsical comedy turned romantic comedy. She’s an artwork translated into human form, possessing a surreal quality you’d expect from the work of Goya, Picasso or Dali. Her voice, peculiar manner and comedic sensibility make her screen gold, an unassuming scene-stealer and the real star of Madame.
While the film should have been built around her, it also benefits from a sharp performance from Toni Collette as Anne. Their Madam & Eve chemistry and friction compel an otherwise uncertain film, making the cross-section of etiquette and social norms quite fascinating. The seething love/hate relationship between these two, gives Madame a slow-burning fury as the two size each other up and wrestle with their eyes.
“I think it’s time you clicked your heels together three times…”
The cast is rounded off by Harvey Keitel as Bob, Tom Hughes as their son Steven and Michael Smiley as their gullible business associate, David. Keitel delivers a fairly standard Keitel comedy performance, Hughes is the cheeky and mischievous “Pan”, while Smiley is simply bedazzled and dotes on his newfound princess. Madame may not be quite sure what it’s trying to say, gently tugging at themes relating to class and high society, but it’s entertaining and enjoyable nevertheless. Perhaps the film should’ve come pre-packaged with a foodie element to match its appetite.
The production design and Parisian backdrops make this a sumptuous affair, every scene beautifully poised and decoratively framed. It glides along quite smoothly, soaking in its artful sensibility, giving a sense of quality and importance to proceedings. The film starts well, creating such a promising and wonderful atmosphere for comedy around the dinner table, that it could have stayed there with breakaways to the kitchen and bedroom. Unfortunately, this “Twelve Angry Men” ambition wasn’t realised, using this funny set up to give Madame momentum. While the priceless expressions and comments churn into an elegant offbeat romantic comedy, it struggles to match its entrance upon exit.
Sthers directs with a steady hand but Madame struggles to decide who’s running the show, using some cheap tricks to wrap up and offering a poignant ending, which is ultimately a bit half-hearted. While it doesn’t land all of its jokes, it’s lightly enjoyable and a feast for the eyes especially if you enjoy comedies about social graces and etiquette.
The bottom line: Amusing