The Movie Waffler French Film Festival UK 2021 Review - MAMA WEED | The Movie Waffler

French Film Festival UK 2021 Review - MAMA WEED

mama weed review
A police translator uses her skills to become a drug dealer.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Jean-Paul Salomé

Starring: Isabelle Huppert, Hippolyte Girardot, Liliane Rovere, Nadja Nguyen

mama weed poster

If Hollywood were still in the habit of remaking foreign language films, the rights to director Jean-Paul Salomé's Mama Weed, adapted from a novel by Hannelore Cayre, would no doubt be snapped up. It boasts a high-concept, mainstream friendly premise, but in its current Gallic form its misfiring comedy and ethnic stereotypes will likely prevent it from winning over English speaking audiences.

mama weed review

Cast against type, Isabelle Huppert is Patience, a French-Algerian woman who works as an Arabic translator for the police. Her job mostly entails listening to wire-tapped conversations between low-level drug dealers and passing on the translations as evidence for arrests. One day she overhears a conversation between a dealer and his mother, whose voice she recognises as that of the Moroccan nurse who looks after her mother in an expensive care home. Patience warns the woman, who alerts her son, who promptly ditches the van-load of hashish he's brought into France from North Africa.

Behind on both her own rent and the fees to keep her mother in care, Patience decides to take advantage of the situation. Adopting a retired police sniffer dog, she tracks down the discarded shipment and hides it in the basement of her apartment block. Donning a hijab and dark glasses, Patience enlists the aid of a pair of street dealers to sell off her supply. The cops become aware of a woman, dubbed "The Matron", who is suddenly responsible for taking over the Parisian dope market, but by feeding her superiors bogus translations, Patience keeps one step ahead of them. But of course, her newfound success attracts unwanted attention from rival drug dealers, and she's soon in over her head.

mama weed review

Mama Weed shares a very similar setup to Mark Gillis's British drama Sink, with both movies featuring protagonists who become drug dealers in order to pay for the care of their elderly parents. As with the heroine of the 2000 Brenda Blethyn vehicle Saving Grace, Patience is saddled with debt left by her no-good husband. Clint Eastwood's The Mule is another recent movie with a similar premise. The key difference between Mama Weed and the aforementioned films is that Patience isn't some normie who finds themselves thrust into the world of narcotics. Rather she's been around it for most of her life and is fully competent when it comes to pulling off her scheme. This erases much of the potential for both comedy and drama. Patience is so on top of her game that we never feel like she's in any real danger from either the naïve cops or the bungling dealers. Despite gifting Huppert a rare chance to display her comic timing, the laughs never quite land, and it would only take a quick rewrite to turn Mama Weed into a straight thriller.

But the real elephant in the room is the double-whammy of casting Huppert as a Franco-Algerian, and then having her character pose as a Moroccan. Not only is it difficult to swallow the none-more-European Huppert as having North African blood, but her scheme involves her taking advantage of actual Moroccans, which wouldn't be an issue if an actual Arab actress had been cast as Patience, but as it stands we're asked to root for a white woman playing brown-face as she endangers the lives of minorities. Why patience chooses to dress in the sort of outfit most likely to draw the attention of the Parisian police is a head-scratcher. Aside from Patience, every non-white character in the movie is engaged in some sort of criminal endeavour. Along with the Moroccans we get Patience's Chinese landlady Colette (Nadja Nguyen), who speaks in Charlie Chan-esque pigeon French and is as close to the "dragon lady" stereotype as you can imagine. When a Chinese wedding is attacked by Moroccan dealers, Colette assures Patience that she'll dispose of the resulting dead gangster, as "This sort of thing always happens at Chinese weddings." What?

mama weed review

It's a shame that the movie suffers from misfiring comedy and racial tone deafness, as it has the potential to be a genuinely involving thriller. Salomé does a convincing job of pulling us into this world, peppering his film with some clearly well-researched details regarding the ins and outs of getting rid of a storage unit's worth of hashish. Huppert is a genuine badass, zipping around in her leather jacket at the age of 66 like a female Tom Cruise. It's refreshing to see her get to smile for a change, but sadly the movie is more likely to provoke frowns and winces from the audience.

Mama Weed
 plays online at the French Film Festival UK from March 20th to 22nd.

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