Madame is a culinary delight featuring the independent cuisines of French, American and Australian talent. It is the latest feature from French writer and director Amanda Sthers (Je Vais Te Manquer) and stars Academy Award nominated actress Toni Colette, Harvey Keitel (Reservoir Dogs) and Spanish model Rossy de Palma (Julieta) as the innocent but feisty maid Maria who is hired to pass off as a noble guest at a most prestigious dinner party, only to play the part a little too well as she catches the eye of dandy artbroker (Michael Smiley-Star Wars: Rogue One).
From the onset, this is a modern day Cinderella story. Maria obnoxiously entertains her dinner party much to the chagrin of Anne (Colette) and must avoid the prying eye of her boss once she begins a cute yet heart wrenching love affair. It’s dually a cross section of the immigrant experience in modern day France as it is an homage to the city of love. The cinematography of Régis Blondeau is stunning and reflects the Paris that we have still formed in our minds, yet reveals a city that is a more accurate depiction of modern times.
Maria is caught between her sense of domestic duties and the impulses and glamour of high society. De Palma is simply delightful in many of her scenes and succesfully crosses into the domain of the comically absurd. She is the embodiment of a woman behaving badly, yet her subversive ways are charming and refreshing. Anne is not entirely painted as an ugly stepmonster, even arousing sympathy and kindness in small douses as she must escape the confines of a trapped marriage with Bob (Keitel) , a man of high calibre yet comically past his prime in all ways. The dusty layers of a life of privilege are surely not what they appear to be and happiness even when found is fleeting. In this sense, the characterisation is rich and the pangs of laughter uncover layers of prejudices, yet leave a scar with the more vulnerable moments.
It is not easy even in present day to move between the classes, and the lengths that each character will go to protect their statuses is poignant. Perhaps where polishing is needed lies in the last third of the movie, where the pace drops and stagnates slightly, although this could reflect the nature of such rendezvouses when they lose steam. Arriving towards the ending feels abrupt, but construed in the wider context of the story it potentially becomes empowering.
An otherwise welcome guest to a fine dining experience.
Madame will be released August 17.