Mama Weed - original title La Daronne, which means The Matron - stars Isabelle Huppert as Patience Portefeux, who is working for the Paris police as an Arabic/French translator. Being short of money, she eventually succumbs to doing business with the very drug pushers whom the police are trying to track down.
La Daronne as a title doesn’t have the right ring about it somehow to evoke the kind of late middle-aged and feisty lady who turns to a life of sophisticated crime. The English language moniker is not used once in the French dialogue nor indeed in the subtitles, but Mama Weed is about right as title. It is evocative of the quirky humour and fast and furious street action that characterises what is a very clever movie indeed.
Central Paris never looked more attractive in those jolting twilight scenes, as cops give chase and the pushers flee. Meanwhile, the viewer who wants to walk by the Seine one more time, like soon, looks longingly at the laptop screen and sighs once again for the real life Les Grands Boulevards.
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Patience is doing her work, day in day out, at the police station, headphones on, while simultaneously transcribing into French the Arabic dialogue of the Moroccan drug operatives whose conversations she hears on her wire tap.
The translator is desperately short of money, behind with paying for her apartment, behind on instalments for her elderly mother’s care while rearing two teenage daughters on her own. She is widowed, her husband having died suddenly twenty years ago following a stroke.
Meanwhile, the calculating but charming translator is in a tenderly playful liaison with a senior member of the narcotic squad, named Philippe (Hippolyte Girardot.) Theirs is a professional relationship which he, more than she, would like to see become permanent.
Patience's elderly mother (Liliane Rovère) is being cared for by a Moroccan woman named Kadidja (Farida Ouchani), mother of one of the drug traffickers. Through this link, our cop translator finds a route to a nerve-racking but marked improvement in her personal income. She is, however, obliged to devise a money laundering scheme involving the sale of her apartment, having accrued so much wealth through shifting some of the ton and half of hashish she has stolen. No trouble to her, she is calm and collected and brazen out.
So she dresses as an elegant Arab lady in a double hijab, dons sunglasses, and adopts an Arabic persona for her dealings with Scotch and Cocoa Puff, two vaguely inept drug vendors who are unaware of her double life. (The original film poster cheekily proclaims that 'Isabelle Huppert is 50% cop, 50% drug dealer, 100% pure.')
Moreover, the glam drug wholesaler is upfront about the money she requires and the precise quantities of hash which she is trying to off-load. She is like a stern mother, and indeed she learns casually from her police friend that she is nicknamed The Matron. Meanwhile, her cop companion Philippe becomes obsessed with finding this mysterious new figure on the Parisian drug-trafficking scene.
Thus, Patience scrupulously maintains dual personae, working with and being courted by the very man who is on the trail of her alter ego. It’s a brilliantly clever premise and Isabelle Huppert is superb as ever, those seemingly effortless expressions of hers can be read like a book - indeed the film is based on a book, La Daronne by Hannelore Cayre.
Stylishly insouciant and uncompromisingly Gallic, Mama Weed is a must-see.
Available to rent on IFI@Home from 12.00 this Sunday November 15 until 22.00 on Wednesday 18. After watching the film, scroll down to watch a post-screening Q&A with director Jean-Paul Salomé.