★★★★ - STUFF
- France's cinematic answer to Breaking Bad is a real hoot -
Isabelle Huppert once again proves why she’s one of the most compelling actors on the planet with a magnificent turn in this intriguing crime caper.
The seemingly always sensational sexagenarian plays Patience Portefeux, a police narcotics unit’s wire-tap expert and translator whose life has seemingly been defined by her husband’s death and mother’s increasing dementia. The former’s fatal stroke, while eating a Caesar Salad at the age of just 34, and the financial peril he left her in, taught her that “life can capsize in a moment”, while the latter requires her unstinting vigilance, spending money to ensure she isn’t bullied in her care home Patience’s “only luxury”, as she tells her own daughters.
Seemingly more interested in intensifying their affair than catching criminals, Patience’s boss Philippe (Hippolyte Girardot) urges her to consider running away with him, but she’s determined to get her men. So when rumours surface of a “quality haul of hash” coming in from the south, Patience is excited that this might just be the big bust they’ve waited years for.
That is, until she discovers that one of the perpetrators is the son of her mother’s favourite carer.
Sensing an opportunity to not only keep him out of jail, but solve some of her own monetary woes, Patience decides to take charge of the situation and use her inside knowledge to divert the drugs away from the long arm of the law. Of course, the next problem will be how to sell it, especially given some of incompetent accomplices that have been foisted upon her. Thus, out of necessity, Mama Weed is born.
Adapted by Hannalore Cayre from her own European Crime Fiction Prize-winning 2019 novel, The Godmother offers a tasty mix of -esque cop drama and stoner comedy laughs.
Veteran French director and co-writer Jean-Paul Salome’s (Female Agents, Arsene Lupin) first film in eight years is a triumph of tone-shifting and storytelling, as he navigates the leaps between tense and lighter moments well.
Much of the movie’s joy comes from Huppert’s transformation to drug-dealing queen and her increasingly elaborate schemes to avoid detection from her colleagues. As with Helen Mirren in the Fast and Furious series, there’s a delight in seeing her “go rogue”, delivering believable tenacity and toughness that unnerve the fiercest of her fellow criminals or opponents.
Here, memorable moments and scenarios abound, as she conducts negotiations via video chats, drops via supermarket biscuit aisles and click-and-collect boxes and asks her equally entrepreneurial building owner (whose unforgettable philosophy is “talk doesn’t cook rice”) for “laundering” advice. There are also – rather bizarrely – hilarious asides involving ‘80s kids TV shows Lucky Luke and Denver the Last Dinosaur.
As everything builds towards an impressively fraught climax, Huppert’s intensity shines through. But although that’s an attribute acclaimed turns in Elle, Greta and The Piano Teacher have already very much established, what really stuns in The Godmother is her comedic timing and delivery.
- James Croot, STUFF
The Godmother is now playing at Light House Petone and Cuba!
In French, Arabic and Yiddish with English subtitles.