French cinema icon Isabelle Huppert displays her comedic side in Jean-Paul Salomé’s crime caper The Godmother (La Daronne). The film starts out as a conventional crime drama with the cops looking to intercept a shipment of drugs, but ends up in some pretty wild territory.
Huppert plays Patience Portefeux*, a translator with the Paris police. She’s fluent in Arabic, which comes in handy when the drug squad – led by her boyfriend Philippe (Hippolyte Giradot) – nabs suspects coming in from North Africa. But her private life is complicated. Although her children are grown up, her mother (Liliane Rovère) is in aged care. And keeping her at a very nice facility however is expensive. Already behind in payments, Patience is looking for an miracle. When she discovers Philippe’s latest sting operation, she panics. The plan targets the son of Khadija (Farida Ouchani) – her mother’s carer. Patience worries Khadija will be arrested – leaving her mother in the care of someone she doesn’t trust. So Patience tips Khadija off. The drugs are dumped, leaving Khadija free.
Then Patience sees her chance. She’s been translating intercepts from a pair of not-too-bright street dealers named Scotch (Rachid Guellas) and Chocapic (Mourad Boudaoud). They have contacts and can move product. So she tracks down the hash and stores it in her basement. Patience then adopts the persona of “Mama Weed” – an Algerian woman – to contact Scotch and Chocapic. She also ropes in her building manager Mme Fo (Nadja Nguyen) to do a little money laundering on the side. Her little scheme takes off, and soon it looks like Patience’s money problems will be over. But she hasn’t reckoned on two things – the tenacious Philippe; and the ruthless Cherkaoui brothers who own the drugs.
The Godmother starts slowly, but soon ramps up into an rollicking crime comedy. It’s almost like a French Ocean’s Eight with drugs instead of jewels. The manic climax at a wedding is horrifyingly hilarious. But this is a French film, so you won’t get away without some relationship and family dramas along the way. Salomé’s assured direction keeps the film zipping along, conveniently papering over several plot holes and a little dicey representation. Salomé collaborated on the screenplay with Hannelore Cayre, who wrote the source novel.
Huppert (Greta) is predictably superb as the quick-thinking Patience. She infuses the character with a magnetic personality that lifts the whole movie. Hippolyte Giradot (Ismael’s Ghosts) has to be her polar opposite as the stolid Philippe. Farida Ouchani lends strong support in a smaller role as Khadija. But Liliane Rovère walks away with every scene she’s in as Patience’s feisty mother.
The Godmother is an engaging, (mostly) breezy comedy. This fun crime frolic should satisfy those seeking some light diversion – even with subtitles.
* A little in-joke – the word “portefeux” means “wallets” in French
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David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television