A CLASSIC Cinderella story, Madame is a joyful romp through the delights of upper class Paris and the immigrant underclass that serves them.
Maria (Spanish actor Rossy de Palma) is a maid for well-heeled American expats Anne (Toni Collette) and Bob (Harvey Keitel). When Bob's son (Tom Hughes), turns up just before a planned dinner party, it sends Anne into a panic. She cannot brook 13 guests at the table.
She superstitiously dragoons Maria into pretending to be an invited guest and a friend of Anne's. Despite being given strict instructions by the uppity Anne to not draw any attention to herself, Maria's natural effervescence can't be subdued and she catches the eye of David, a British artbroker (Michael Smiley).
Maria falls for David and he's utterly enchanted by her, though he thinks she's a Spanish princess. He woos her and she's swept up by the romance.
Her attempts to correct the record are unsuccessful and Maria finds herself caught up in a lie she's very uncomfortable with. Anne is mortified but Bob needs David to sell his precious Caravaggio to cover mounting debts.
Maria's obvious happiness leads Anne to question her own life choices but any fleeting moments of self-awareness doesn't necessarily spur change.
It's no wonder de Palma is sometimes described as Pedro Almodovar's muse - she's worked with him on seven films since 1987. Her Picasso-esque face is extraordinarily expressive and open and she has an incredible screen presence.
She is the heart of Madame, even if, the titular "Madame" is Collette's Anne, at least by frequency of address. The ridiculous Anne ("Louboutin doesn't even make a size eight!") borders on caricature at times but this could be a deliberate choice to underscore Maria's authenticity.
When Madame held its world premiere at the Sydney Film Festival two months ago, there were howls of laughter from the audience, and that's in large part due to de Palma's dynamic and empathetic performance.
It's also genuinely funny with more than a few farcical moments to work those stomach muscles.
Madame boasts gorgeous aesthetics with its Parisian boudoirs, French countryside villas and artful costumes. Its bright palette only serves to remind us that the loveliest of environments doesn't always equal the loveliest of hearts.
Written and directed by French filmmaker and novelist Amanda Sthers, Madame doesn't quite hit the level of biting satire. But it says enough about the haves and have-nots to be substantial in its portrayal of affected candy-coloured opulence.
Madame opens in select cinemas tomorrow. For more information go to the film's website.
Stars: Toni Collette, Harvey Keitel, Rossy de Palma, Michael Smiley.
Director: Amanda Sthers
Verdict: 3 stars
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