MADAME — Review by Cate Marquis

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Madame is a French comedy of manners from writer/director Amanda Sther, that plays with what happens when a wealthy hostess suddenly discovers that she needs one more dinner guest to avoid having the unlucky number 13, and decides to pass off her maid as one of the guests. But this is no costume drama set in the 18th century – this story takes place in modern Paris, with Harvey Keitel and Toni Collette playing the wealthy American couple, living in a Paris mansion. Continue reading…

Anne and Bob Fredericks (Collette and Keitel) are a wealthy American couple newly relocated to Paris. Bob is selling a valuable painting, and the couple are hosting a posh dinner party that includes the potential French buyer Antoine Bernard (Stanislas Merhar) and the Irish art expert David (Michael Smiley) who is helping negotiate the sale. The arrival of Bob’s grown son Stephen (Tom Hughes) from his earlier marriage to a British woman, upsets the dinner plans and numbers, much to Anne’s annoyance and Stephen’s secret delight.

Although the story is set in Paris and the opening credits are in French, the dialog is mostly English and features an international cast, a sly little reference perhaps to the international character of the contemporary ultra-rich. Despite the time shift and shedding the costumes, MADAME still has some of the same themes of different social classes and income inequality that come up in classic comedies of manners, as well as the sex farce element. It is just that now the nobles are replaced with the one-percenters.

Madame, as the staff calls Anne, hits on a plan to avoid having the unlucky number 13 for dinner. She decides to dress up one of the servants to pose as a guest, and presses her long-time servant Maria (Rossy de Palma) to play the part. Maria resists but Madame insists, assuring Maria that as long as she doesn’t say too much, it will work. Dolled up and dressed in Madame’s clothes, who will notice?

Then Stephen, who does not like his stepmother much, adds a few twists to shake things up a tad. Thanks to his “help,” and some extra wine, the ruse works – a little too well.

And this is where director Amanda Sther starts to have some real fun. Everything goes a little crazy after the dinner, as does Anne, who keeps trying to correct the situation without creating embarrassment to herself. As they are wont to do, things get more and more complicated, with more secrets, near-misses, and one huge misunderstanding. Sther handles all the chaos with a nice ironic touch, and a bit of sweetness and sadness. The writer/director pays homage to the venerable genre but with a new biting contemporary social commentary. With this splendid cast set loose in Paris, it is comedy of manners with an edge, even if the old costumes are gone.

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Cate Marquis

Cate Marquis is a film critic and historian based in the St. Louis, Missouri area. Marquis reviews film for the St. Louis Jewish Light weekly newspaper and Playback: stl website, as well as other publications. The daughter of artist Paul Marquis, she was introduced to classic and silent films by her father, as well as art and theater. Besides reviewing films, she lectures on film history, particularly the silent film era, has served on the board of the Meramec Classic Film Festival and is a long-time collaborator with the St. Louis International Film Festival, serving on various juries.