Isabelle Huppert stars as a no-nonsense Franco-Algerian Police Interpreter turned audaciously revered drug kingpin in Jean-Paul Salomé’s The Godmother.
Based on the crime novella by author and co-writer of the film Hannelore Cayre, The Godmother (or Mama Weed as it’s known overseas), garnered a popular reception upon release in the French film market late last year, eventually prompting production company La Boétie to distribute it in select international markets. It came to Australia as part of the annual Alliance Française French Film Festival (cancelled last year due to obvious safety concerns) after enjoying a surprisingly great run in French theatres, even taking home a few awards here and there.
The talent is the biggest draw here as Isabelle Huppert is an Academy Award-nominated actress and has received much acclaim over the years as a staple of modern French cinema. The supporting cast is also quite renowned, with Hippolyte Girardot set to appear in Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch later this year. However, with director Jean-Paul Salomé not having many notable features to his name, and this being Cayre’s writing debut, it’s the people behind the scenes that make this project feel, unfortunately, quite amateurish.
The biggest issue with The Godmother is the messy and conflicting tone. At times it’s evident that the writer did not know what kind of movie they wanted it to be, with so many things just being thrown in for no real reason, solely for plot convenience or a cheap emotional sting. The script continually introduces new plot points and characters, even if they don’t mix well or add much to the story, most of the time being entirely forgettable. Some elements directly contradict the emotion and plot that the script is going for. The finale is rushed and attempts to give the main character an emotional payoff that is not earned or developed well enough for the audience to care.
Comedically it is very hit or miss, with certain scenes being jovial in tone with a very dark sense of humour, which unfortunately is not carried throughout the film. Most of the time, the jokes come from very observational and crass areas that will either make you chuckle or fly right past you as the movie races to the finish line. There were swaths of the middle portion that did begin to work better, where it felt like the writer and director were finally on the same page tonally. However, the potential for a tense (albeit cliched) conclusion is nullified nearly instantly as the movie keeps going in a very safe and expected direction.
The acting talent all give serviceable-to-good performances that work fine for the material they are provided; however, nobody stands out, which is a shame as the main actors have proven to be great in the past. Huppert being the lead gave a perfectly professional display, not leaning too heavily into the bizarre titular character she eventually portrays as the story hedges along.
The Godmother is a disappointing effort by most involved and a rocky start to the otherwise promising-looking Alliance Française French Film Festival. With a tighter script and better attention to tone and characters, it could have been something of an entertaining fluff piece or an intense depiction of the Arabian subculture in France not commonly shown on the big screen.
Isabelle Huppert has had the most films in the official competition of the Cannes Film Festival (20 films, as of 2017).