- Colin Fraser
THREE AND A HALF STARS A police translator finds a more lucrative life moonlighting as a drug dealer.
COMEDY DRAMA French Language France #LADARONNE
First of all, we should be extremely grateful for the small mercy that we live in a region where the ridiculous English title of MAMA WEED was changed to a much smarter, much cooler moniker, THE GODMOTHER. It’s also much closer to the original (LA DARONNE) which alludes to the humour and whimsy that binds this fun little outing.
Not that the opening is in anyway fun as the door of an ‘ethnic’ apartment in the suburbs of Paris is crushed by a swarm of police. People are thrown to the floor and ordered to confess before Patience (Isabelle Huppert), a French-Arabic interpreter, arrives to help calm the mess. This isn’t where she’d planned for her career to take her and, it seems, she isn’t paid enough to pursue it with any loyalty.
Her ageing mother is in a pricey care home and with the financial affairs of an ex-husband to clean up - Patience has bills to pay. On learning of a stack of dope that’s gone missing, she keeps salient details from her colleagues and, with the help of a hapless pair of low-level Arabic distributers, starts moonlighting as a hijab-wearing godmother. Despite the apparent absurdity, her sex and age make her all but invisible to gangs and police alike. Let the dealing begin!
The internal danger with this framework is that THE GODMOTHER will serve up racist clichés in the worst way possible, yet under the sensitive direction of Jean-Paul Salomé manages to skirt any such incursions. All the characters are sufficiently rounded that they escape severe stereotyping or, in the case of Patience, becoming a white saviour. As one of her (all Asian) neighbours explains, “we used to call the police but they never came to Chinese people, so we learned to deal with our own problems”. It’s a knowing sentiment that underscores the entire narrative.
If it wasn’t for Huppert, the whole house of cards could easily come crashing down. Her light touch and effortless charm keeps THE GODMOTHER afloat even when it threatens otherwise (see above re stereotypes and whimsy). Even at the tender age of 67 (it's true!), Huppert commands every scene with a smile and a twinkling eye that lends the occasional deeper moment a sense of profundity that only she could own convincingly. Then she snaps back, dragging a laundry bag of drugs around Paris, leading men on a merry chase, in stunning make up and super-sized sun-glasses. Great fun.
THE GODMOTHER is screening in the Alliance Française French Film Festival 2021