Cinderella story fails to take sides

Rossy de Palma (left) and Toni Collette in Madame.
Rossy de Palma (left) and Toni Collette in Madame.PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION

It has been a while since there was a good skewering of the parasitic upper crust. While it has its moments of scathing insight, this comedy-drama most definitely does not meet the requirements.

The story is largely kind to both the elites living upstairs as it is to the ones downstairs, who keep the apartment from falling apart.

French writer-director Amanda Sthers' sympathetic eye sees that both Anne (Collette) and Maria (de Palma) are trapped. Wealth, says Sthers, is as much a prison as poverty.

Anne and Bob (Keitel) spend so much energy maintaining their status that they have lost their ability to enjoy life, while Maria denies herself pleasure because she feels unworthy.

Beyond that, the film-maker has not much to say about the effect of money on character.

Once she moves past the breaking of the minor taboo against interclass romance, a contemporary Cinderella story of a sort emerges.

  • REVIEW / DRAMA-COMEDY

  • MADAME (M18)

    92 minutes/Opens tomorrow

    2.5/5 Stars

    The story: Bob (Harvey Keitel) and Anne (Toni Collette) are wealthy American expatriates living in Paris. In their retinue of servants is the Spanish maid Maria (Rossy de Palma). During one of their dinner parties, rather than leave a seat empty, Anne forces Maria to pretend to be a member of the European aristocracy. Trouble ensues when art broker David (Michael Smiley), not knowing Maria's real identity, falls for her.

Maria is a bashful and reluctant fake, while David (British actor Smiley) is her pursuing prince.

Bob and Anne, in between trying to keep their heads above water, indulge in illicit pleasures of their own, all the while spying on and being deeply jealous of Maria's happiness.

When Bob's business dealings and Maria's inter-class romance start intertwining, the film starts to get interesting, but that mood of suspense flags when Sthers shifts the focus to character studies of the couple and the wooing of Maria.

Collette gives her usual excellent performance as the brittle Anne, a closet racist with a liberal, artsloving front. In lesser hands, the role might have been a daytime soap character, a sneering dowager.

The actress makes the audience believe rich people problems are worthy of sympathy, even if the character in question is far from likeable.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 06, 2017, with the headline 'Cinderella story fails to take sides'. Print Edition | Subscribe