MAMA WEED (La daronne)
Brainstorm Media/Music Box Films
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Jean-Paul Salomé
Writer: Hannelore Cayre, Hannelore C;ayre, Jean-Paul Salomé, based on Hannelore Cayre’s novel “The Godmother”
Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Hippolyte Giradot, Farida Ouchani, Liliane Rovère, Iris Bry
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 6/10/21
Opens: July 16, 2021

In an end-year ranking, the New York Times declared Isabelle Huppert to be the second-best actor of the 21st Century, just behind Denzel Washington. The paper notes how she can switch from tears to smiles, from frightful to comic. “Mama Weed” could not have enjoyed a better performer for the role of a woman who is vulnerable to the extent that she is barely able to pay for the nursing home treating her mother, is behind on the rent, and is therefore in a financially weakened position that makes her consider crime. What’s more, once she gets the knack of stealing and then selling hashish, she becomes so confident as a pusher that her criminal buyers call her Mama Weed. (This may not be accurate since weed is associated with marijuana, and not with the hashish that is dealt here.)

In director Jean-Paul Salomé’s 2010 “The Chameleon,” Frédéric Fortin takes up the identity of a woman’s long lost son. You may recognize a similar theme in Fred Schepisi’s 1993 “Six Degrees of Separation,” in which affluent New York City couple finds their lives touched, intruded upon, and compelled by a mysterious young black man who is never quite who he says he is. “Mama Weed,” in fact, is in part a witty look at a chameleon who can change from Arabic-French interpreter for the Paris police to a drug lord, though she plays the latter role with a wink at the audience.

As Patience Portefeux (Isabelle Huppert), she has been patient too long, accepting the too-low salary interpreting the Arabic of arrested Frenchmen originally from the Middle East, even getting spat upon by a meanie. Philippe (Hiippolyte Giradot), her regular bedmate, had just received a promotion from the force, having racking up a tidy sum of arrests, now eager to find and charge this Mama Weed. At the same time, Patience drives a hard bargain with two clownish figures, Scotch (Rachid Guellaz) and Chocapic (Mourad Boudaoud).

Patience, innocent though she appears to the narcotics division, does not have an innocent background in that her late husband was involved in international drug trafficking, but somehow the money he derived never finds its way back to her. At least there is never enough to pay 3200€ a month for the nursing home with the dying mother of Patience, Mme Portefeux (Liliane Rovère), is cared for by Kadidja (Farida Ouchani) whose son is involved in the hashish trade.

After stealing several laundry bags full of the product and threatening to sic her German Shepherd on hostile dealers, she goes full Arab, donning a headscarf and robe a strutting about the City of Lights as though Moroccan royalty on a shopping spree. She remains a few steps ahead of the police until she does not, and to see what happens after she is detected by her lover, the police captain, you’ll have to see this movie. You’re bound to sympathize with a woman who treats her ailing mother so well and wish her the best, and not a room in the Fleury-Mérogis—the name sounding like a 5-star hotel but actually Europe’s largest prison.

106 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – A-
Technical – B
Overall – B+

By Harvey Karten

Harvey Karten is the founder of the The New York Film Critics Online (NYFCO) an organization composed of Internet film critics based in New York City. The group meets once a year, in December, for voting on its annual NYFCO Awards.

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