“Mama Weed” –Smoking hot [MOVIE REVIEW]

Isabelle Huppert as Patience in “Mama Weed.” Photo courtesy of Lydie Nesvadba.

“Mama Weed” (“La Daronne”), the clever, mostly successful portrait of a police interpreter who uses her inside knowledge for personal gain, benefits greatly from Isabelle Huppert playing the lead character.

Adapting the novel entitled La Daronne (loosely translated as the Godmother in the criminal sense) by Hannelore Cayre, Jean-Paul Salomé directed this interesting screenplay in a hodge podge of styles to mostly good results.

Patience Portefeux is an Arabic interpreter working with the police to translate the wire-tapped conversations of a North African Parisian drug gang, the very scary Cherkaoui Brothers and their various distributors. She is party to all of their plans and deals. She even has her favorites—two morons on the margins she calls Scotch and Cocoa Puffs. They are lower level dealers who would fit perfectly with the “Gang Who Couldn’t Shoot Straight.”

Patience’s life is complicated with money woes. Her mother, suffering from dementia, lives in an expensive care home and she’s several months in arears. Her mother is cared for by a wonderful Arab woman who always does extra but that will soon end as the manager has given Patience notice that her mother will soon be transferred to a state institution. She’s also behind on her apartment fees and is being hounded by the manager, a savvy Chinese woman who’d like to get hold of Patience’s apartment. Patience is being squeezed from every direction and even her clandestine affair with her boss Philippe gives her little comfort.

Then one day at work it all changes when she overhears a conversation between her mother’s beloved caretaker and her son. Knowing that the son is about to make a huge drug delivery to his bosses, the very scary Cherkaoui Brothers, she goes out on a very shaky limb and warns the caretaker that the police are tracking her son’s van. Patience is able to cover for him as he dumps the product in a hiding place. In a moment of insanity, Patience realizes that this drug cache is the answer to her prayers; and right under the noses of her employers, she becomes Mama Weed, a new, previously unheralded drug distributor.

Isabelle Huppert as Patience with Rachid Guellaz and Mourad Boudaoud as Scotch and Cocoa Puffs in “Mama Weed.” Photo courtesy of Guy Ferrandis.

Revealing more would spoil most of the fun. That the word “most” is used is because Salomé has mixed his styles to tell his story. The beginning is a straightforward introduction to Patience and her everyday troubles. You can see the light bulb go off in her head when she quickly formulates her plan to be a drug kingpin and this is when the film takes off and is most engaging. As a comedy, and it works as this through the middle section, the moronic low level drug dealers and their dimwitted response to becoming major dealers is a highlight. Patience nurtures them, to mixed results, and leads them down the garden path in full view of her lover, the police commander. The quick, clean, melancholic wrap up diminishes the marvelous center that plays very tongue-in-cheek. It is a pity that Salomé was unable to sustain the humor but apparently he intended to mix the styles of procedural cop show, satire, and not so happily ever after.

The real pleasure in this film is Isabelle Huppert. It is doubtful that any other actress would have been able to negotiate the humor embedded in the middle of what could have been a very ordinary film. There are not enough superlatives to describe what she brings to every role she plays. She has infused this character with empathy, sympathy, slapstick comedy, and sadness. On top of that, she learned all her Arabic dialogue phonetically and delivers it believably. She easily found the humor while maintaining the dignity necessary to show the fragility of her day to day existence.

Huppert is ably assisted by Hippolyte Girardot who plays Philippe, her lover who is perplexed by the stasis of their affair and the pressures from his job where he is in desperate need of a win. To the delight of her many fans from “Call My Agent,” Liliane Rovère plays Patience’s demented but sometimes lucid mother. The Laurel and Hardy team of Scotch and Coco Puffs is played to hilarious effect by Rachid Guellaz and Mourad Boudaoud, respectively.

That Salomé did not effectively integrate all of his filming styles is a pity but he came up with a film that is good enough, and that is due entirely to the presence of his star who would be engaging reading the phone book (an expression left over from the time there were actual phone books).

Opening Friday July 16 at the Landmark Westwood and on July 21 at the South Bay Film Society.

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Written by: Neely Swanson

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