Drugs are a colossal issue in the city of Paris. Harmless but woefully inept, Chief Phillipe seems to fall at every hurdle whenever he comes close to capturing his target. And without his underpaid, undervalued translator, the police are simply playing catch-up with drug dealers across the city. But little does he know that his newest adversary, ‘The Matron’, a kingpin fresh onto the scene, is someone much closer to home.
In a moment of compassion, French-Arabic translator Patience Portefeux realises that in aiding a young drug-smuggler turn his life around and avoid police detection while also helping a nurse caring for her dying mother, an unexpected opportunity arises. With hundreds of kilos of hashish (cannabis resin) lying undisturbed and unknown, it would be a terrible shame to let all of that merchandise go to waste, wouldn’t it? And with all the violence, trafficking and abuse rife amongst the city’s gangs, perhaps a new drug lord, one with kinder hands and unexpected experience, should enter the game.
Oscar-nominated Isabelle Huppert is nothing but a tour-de-force and holds Jean-Paul Salomé‘s adaptation of Hannelore Cayre’s novel together, even in the less tasteful moments. Her class and capability mean that when donning the disguise of a hijab and portraying a character with partial North-African origins, there’s never an angle of offence played for amusement. Comedically, Huppert’s strength lies with the authority she compels around her, and the ignorance of the male police officers who assume they understand more. The relationships she forges with her boss, neighbours, daughters and dealers grow in tenacity as Mama Weed progresses.
Indeed, this is without question a film in which the ladies get one over on the men as they run “100% legitimate businesses”. There’s a stern motherly presence from Patience, a warming nature which brokers discussions and deals with ease, but a zero-tolerance of attitude or rough-housing. Salomé gets to the roots of Patience’s desires, not solely to make money but to live for the thrill of life and push past the unfulfilling day-to-day expectations. Though with two daughters, a deceased husband, and hospital bills to pay, the street value of weed is not to be sniffed at.
But it isn’t only Patience making money on the sidelines. Initially, the nosey neighbour Colette owns the building and uses it to launder funds for the family business. Jade Nadja Nguyen is a match for Huppert in every sense, the pair having an undeniable aspect of respectful chemistry and value that being a mother comes first.
Beneath the veneer of a comedic escapade of a middle-aged woman commandeering the Parisian streets is the story of a woman who takes the opportunity to secure her family and alter the path of her mundane life – albeit through illegal means. The thrill, determination and accomplishment spreading across Huppert’s face as each cop is deceived and every dealer outsmarted is a triumphant moment the audience cannot help but rally behind.
Soft lenses make the grimy backstreets of Paris feel like a Jean-Pierre Jeunet dream, but don’t shy from the harsher shots of the city at night, lowering the angles as distinctly violent crimes begin to unearth themselves. Salomé does his best to emulate the secrecy, codewords and inventive hiding spots of the scene to conjure a more thrilling aspect to the drama, carried by Bruno Coulais‘s often jittery scoring, which matches the comedic tone well.
Jean-Paul Salomé cuts his film with some of the finer stuff to hook newcomers, but there’s the occasional trace of bad comedic taste which may not provide the hit audiences hoped for. Fleeting jokes fall flat, and the short-cuts in the storytelling to provide Patience with quick escapes come off as paresseux. Mama Weed thankfully is held high (pun intended) on the shoulders of Huppert, who rolls a smooth blend of dramedy, delivering a comedy performance with a subtle undertone on the stigmas of middle-age.
Screening as part of French Film Festival UK 2021