dir-scr Amanda Sthers
prd Cyril Colbeau-Justin
with Toni Collette, Harvey Keitel, Rossy de Palma, Michael Smiley, Tom Hughes, Stanislas Merhar, Violaine Gillibert, Josephine de La Baume, Sue Cann, Ariane Seguillon, Brendan Patricks, Tim Fellingham
release Fr 22.Nov.17, US 23.Mar.18
UK 20.Jul.18
17/France StudioCanal 1h31
Who's the boss? de Palma and Collette

keitel smiley hughes
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Madame With a brittle sense of humour, this sparky English-language French comedy plays with a variety of themes, including class divisions and the nature of art. The large collection of characters is colourful and entertaining, and the script is packed with snappy dialog that lets the actors shine. So even as the plot becomes a little pointed and farcical, it's thoroughly engaging, and has a surprising kick to it.

Wealthy Americans, Anne and Bob (Collette and Keitel) are hosting an elaborate dinner party at their Paris home. When Bob's writer son Steven (Hughes) joins them, Anne decrees that they can't have 13 at the table, so she asks her housekeeper Maria (de Palma) to pretend to be Spanish royalty. As she struggles to follow Anne's rules, Maria inadvertently charms Irish art consultant David (Smiley). The meal is a swirl of conversations, flirtations and quiet provocations. Then on the next day, David asks Maria out on a date, and Anne freaks out.

The irony is that the dinner is being held to celebrate Bob selling his Caravaggio Last Supper painting to one of the guests (Merhar). And what follows is a series of liaisons and indiscretions that intersect in unsuspecting ways (both Anne and Bob are trying to generate an extramarital romance). The script never digs very deeply into either the issues or the relationships, keeping things fizzy and generally amusing. And when things do begin to turn dark, the scenes are genuinely moving, quietly provoking the audience with attitudes and emotions.

Collette plays Anne as a bundle of nerves, a control freak who's charming but not terribly sympathetic. Keitel balances her as the laid-back, sardonic Bob, and Hughes has some fun as his mischievous son. But it's de Palma and Smiley who own the film, cleverly playing romance that's based on a convoluted misunderstanding. They're easy to root for as circumstances and other people conspire against them. And refreshingly, their journey doesn't take the usual trajectory.

There's a running gag about how stupid common people arode contrived happy endings, and filmmaker Sthers gently plays with this idea all the way through, deliberately poking fun at British rom-coms (Love Actually gets a specific shout-out) while building to an ending that's both poignant and quietly triumphant. It always seems clear where this story has to go, but getting there is involving, mixing sweet silliness with some much deeper feelings. And where these people end up actually leaves us with something to ponder.

cert 15 themes, language, nudity 15.Mar.18

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