Review: Madame at Sydney Film Festival

We were at the World Premiere of Madame, at Sydney Film Festival. Here’s Addy Fong’s review and pictures of Nashen Moodley (SFF director) and Amanda Sthers (the film’s writer/director):

There is delight in the simplicity of the fairytale, where happiness is most deserving for those of a kind and compassionate nature. Amanda Sthers’ film Madame is a charming one, a soulful comedy that touches on the notion of class and preconceived ideas that those deemed superficially beautiful are the most deserving of happiness.

‘People love happy endings’ Maria (Rossy de Palma), remarks at a dinner party after having been disguised by her master Anne (Toni Collette) to attend as a rich Spanish friend when in fact she is their maid. The lie, started by a superstitious Anne after finding herself with 13 dinner guests in attendance, manifests when Maria decides to embrace her newfound identity as a mysterious, rich Spanish friend for longer than Anne permits.

In what could be considered a modern take on the Cinderella fairytale, where a servant is rewarded for their goodness and virtue, Maria’s kindhearted nature convinces us that she should get her happy ending. At the stroke of midnight, she slips away from the dinner party and heads back to her quarters in order to resume her daily chores the following day. Maria however, unknowingly catches the eye of British aristocrat, David (Michael Smiley) and the two develop an unlikely romance, much to the disapproval of Anne who feels it to be threat to her reputation.

In casting Toni Collette as Anne, her role as the film’s antagonist is interpreted as charming, comedic and playful even, with the delivery of her witty remarks about Maria which make her seem more like a jealous schoolgirl than evil stepmother.

Despite Maria’s humble and kind-hearted nature, Anne proves difficult in allowing any romance to blossom between the two and threatening Maria with dismissal whilst her stepson Michael (Tim Fellingham) encourages it by providing David with her number. His infatuation with Maria seems like something of a fairytale and two first meet for a date outside a theatre where ‘L’Homme Invisible’ is playing. L’Homme Invisible translates to ‘The Invisible Man’, which seems to allude to Maria’s true identity as the maid of which causes her to feel invisible due to her status.

There are questions that arise in Madame as to whether Maria’s supposed dishonesty is something to be reprimanded or rewarded, for she challenges the social patriarch in exchange for feelings of happiness of which viewers would understandably feel that she deserves. There is the assumption that protagonists of many fairytales should be rewarded with love and happiness, however, unlike most fairytales where love itself seems only reserved for those of elite social ranking and beauty. The camera frames Maria as neither and social assumptions such as this seem to shape the way that characters interact within Sther’s script, that cleverly weaves in hilarious stereotypes about a lot of the characters that exist within the film.

Perhaps, by presenting us with stereotypes and social preconceptions of characters Sthers’ Madame sets to challenge the notions of the fairytale, true love, and happiness.

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Review by Addy Fong.