Review: ‘Titane,’ starring Agathe Rousselle and Vincent Lindon

September 29, 2021

by Carla Hay

Agathe Rousselle in “Titane” (Photo by Carole Bethuel/Neon)

Titane” 

Directed by Julia Ducournau

French with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Paris, the horror film “Titane” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some black people) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: After getting into a car accident as a child and undergoing a mysterious surgical operation, a woman becomes a serial killer who has a sexual obsession with automobiles.

Culture Audience: “Titane” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching offbeat, artsy horror movies.

Vincent Lindon in “Titane” (Photo by Carole Bethuel/Neon)

Disturbing, compelling and occasionally comedic, the deliberately perplexing “Titane” wraps an unorthodox love story in the cloak of a grisly horror movie. “Titane” leaves a lot of questions unanswered, but it’s never boring. The emotionally damaged performances by “Titane” co-stars Agathe Rousselle and Vincent Lindon make the film worth watching for people who are open to unconventional horror movies. Everyone else will probably be turned off by “Titane” because it has a plethora of content that’s intended to make people nauseous or queasy.

“Titane” is the second feature film from French writer/director Julia Ducournau, who clearly wants to be in the same league as well-known film provocateurs who are celebrated for making artsy movies that revel in the gruesome. Her feature-film debut was 2017’s “Raw,” a horror movie about young female cannibals who not only crave human flesh but are sexually aroused by this craving. “Titane” also interwines death and sex with an unusual obsession: the female protagonist, who is a serial killer, gets sexually aroused by automobiles.

Viewer expectations might be high for “Titane,” since the movie won the 2021 Cannes Film Festival’s Palme d’or, the festival’s highest prize. Ducournau is only the second female director to win this award since the festival launched in 1946. Jane Campion was the first female director to win the Palme d’Or, for her 1993 film “The Piano,” which went on to win three Oscars (including Best Original Screenplay for Campion) out of its eight Oscar nominations.

“The Piano” is the type of movie that is traditional Oscar bait. “Titane” is too much of an avant-garde film to get the type of Academy Award accolades that “The Piano” received. For all of its artsy characteristics, “Titane” is essentially a horror movie, so it’ll probably be too much of a turnoff to film snobs who hate horror movies. Even people who like horror movies might feel a little alienated by how baffling and frustrating “Titane” can be in making characters too mysterious for viewers to feel some kind of emotional connection.

“Titane” opens with a 7-year-old girl named Alexia (played by Adèle Guigue), who’s seated in the back of a car that’s being driven by her unnamed father (played by Bertrand Bonello) while cruising on a highway. Alexia is making a loud humming sound that’s similar to the sound of a revving engine. The noise is irritating to her father, who turns up the volume on the car radio. Alexia just hums louder in response.

Alexia’s father tell Alexia to stop making this noise, but she ignores him. As she gets up while the car is in motion, he reaches behind him to scold her for not wearing a seat belt. He loses control of the car, which crashes on a highway divider.

The next scene shows Alexia in a medical exam room, after she’s had a mysterious surgical operation, which is not shown in the movie. What is shown is that she now has something metallic implanted in her skull. The implant scar on the right side of the head is prominently featured in the movie as constant reminder.

Alexia is also wearing a metal plate headset, whose purpose remains a mystery, but when she wears the headset it’s nearly impossible to move her head. The doctor in the exam room tells Alexia’s father: “Watch for any neurological signs. Motor function, coordination, diction.”

When Alexia and her father leave the hospital, she’s no longer wearing the metal plate headset. As they go outside, Alexia sees her father’s car, which is the same car that was in the accident. And she does something strange: She runs up to the car and hugs it.

The movie then fast-forwards to when Alexia is 32 years old (played by Agathe Rousselle) and working as an exotic dancer. She’s not a stripper, but she’s hired to do things like dancing sexually at parties while she wears revealing clothing. It’s at one of these parties (which takes place inside a warehouse) that viewers first see the adult Alexia, who is tall, lanky and bristling with a “don’t mess with me” energy. She’s slightly androgynous and wears her hair up in a disheveled bun that’s held by a long black hair pin that’s about the size of a chopstick.

Alexia is one of several female dancers at this party, which has cars set up as props so that the dancers can gyrate on the hoods and roofs of the cars. A security guy is shown pulling a rowdy male partygoer off a dancer in the partygoer’s attempt to grope the dancer. The security guy gruffly reminds the partygoer that the party has a “look but don’t touch” policy for how party guests can interact with the dancers.

Alexia is apparently well-known among the many of the male partygoers, who gather around as she does a sensual dance on the hood of a car. After her dance, several of her admirers surround her and ask for her autograph. Alexia is accommodating but she seems emotionally detached from getting this attention.

After the party, Alexia and the other dancers are taking a group shower in the warehouse. A pretty young woman standing next to Alexia introduces herself as Justine (Garance Marillier), who seems to want to start a friendly conversation with Alexia. However, Alexia is standoffish and doesn’t seem interested in talking to anyone.

An awkward moment comes when Alexia leans down and her hair accidentally gets caught in Justine’s nipple ring. After some uncomfortable moments when Alexia gently tries to untangle her hair from the ring, she loses patience and just yanks her hair out, which obviously causes some pain to Justine, who expresses irritation with Alexia for being so insensitive. Alexia just walks away.

Alexia clearly wants to be left alone. However, one of her male admirers has followed Alexia to her car, which is the only car that’s left in the dark parking lot. As she’s about to start the engine, he stops her and asks for her autograph, and she reluctantly obliges. This stalker, who is a total stranger to Alexia, then tells Alexia that he thinks he’s in love with her.

He asks Alexia to kiss him, and she gives him two friendly kisses on the cheek. But then, things get ugly when he forces her to kiss him on the mouth. At first she resists, but then she starts kissing him back, as she reaches for that long black hair pin. You can guess what happens next, because Alexia has a secret: She’s a serial killer.

Here’s a pattern that a lot of people won’t like about “Titane”: The movie tends to abruptly jump to a scene that will make viewers think that parts of the story are missing. After showing Justine and Alexia meeting for the first time under awkward circumstances, the next time Alexia and Justine are seen together is when they’re on a date, and they’re making out with each other like lovers. It’s an explicit scene with partial nudity. The movie never shows or tells what happened to cause Justine and Alexia to go on a date after Alexia made such a bad first impression on Justine.

The same thing happens again, when a scene abruptly shifts to Alexia in an amorous lip lock with Justine at someone else’s house. What are they doing there? How has their relationship progressed to this point? It turns out that this house is supposed to be the site of a sex party. There’s no orgy scene in the movie, but things get out of control very quickly when it comes to Alexia’s murderous impulses.

Alexia has been leading a double life where she lives at home with her parents, who don’t really ask about or meddle into whatever Alexia does in her own free time. Alexia’s father seems a little suspicious of Alexia’s secretive activities when she’s not in the house, but Alexia’s mother (played by Céline Carrère) is blissfully unaware. Alexia’s parents don’t get much screen time in the movie (less than 10 minutes), and they don’t say much (less than two minutes of dialogue), but it’s eventually revealed that Alexia has some disturbing control over them.

Through a series of circumstances that won’t be revealed in this review, Alexia disguises herself as a man for the majority of the story. She impulsively comes up with this idea while she made a hasty trip to an airport, where she goes in the bathroom to cut her hair and use medical bandages to bind her breasts. She also deliberately breaks her nose on the bathroom sink to change the appearance of her nose. Alexia’s trip to the airport was so last-minute that she only brought her backpack with her and no other luggage.

Observant viewers might ask, “Where did she find the time to get the medical bandages?” It’s a minor plot hole in the movie that could be explained by speculating that Alexia bought the bandages at the airport, although most airports don’t sell wrap-around bandages of the size that Alexia uses. Viewers of “Titane” will have to get used to scenes that have sudden shifts, with things taking place that have no previous context. For example, viewers never find out what Alexia’s life was like in the years between her car accident at 7 years old and her life at 32 years old.

Alexia’s disguise as a man involves her stealing the identity of someone named Adrien Legrand. When she’s disguised as Adrien, Alexia pretends to be mute. This identity theft ends up fooling a family member of Adrien. The victim of this scam is named Vincent (played by Vincent Lindon), a middle-aged firefighter captain. Vincent is divorced, he lives alone, and he’s another lost and damaged soul.

Vincent abuses steroids and is haunted by a personal tragedy from his past. Disguised as Adrien, Alexia ends up living with Vincent. Their relationship is very rocky at first, with Alexia/Adrien being very hostile to Vincent from the beginning, but they end up getting to know each other better. “Titane” has scenes that are meant to show homoerotic and incestuous undertones of Vincent’s intimate touching of “Adrien,” with Victor being confused by his possible sexual attraction to a man whom he thinks is a close relative.

Alexia’s murderous rampage, sexual fascination with automobiles, and theft of someone else’s identity aren’t her only secrets. She has another big secret which results in scenes that will make viewers squirm the most. This secret is why people can describe “Titane” as being a “body horror” movie. Ducournau has an interesting directing style of blending scenes that are hypnotic and dreamlike with scenes that are stark and jolting in their realism.

At the fire station, Vincent has a young protégé named Rayane (played by Laïs Salameh), who has the nickname Conscience. Shortly after “Adrien” starts living with Vincent, “Adrien” is given a job at the same firefighter station where Vincent is the captain. “Adrien” then goes through training as a firefighter and paramedic, but “Adrien” encounters some obstacles that have to do with Rayane.

Rayane becomes jealous and insecure that “Adrien” might replace him as Vincent’s favorite employee. Rayane notices that “Adrien” looks androgynous, and he has doubts about the identity of “Adrien,” so he targets “Adrien” for some bullying. Rayane also wonders if “Adrien” could be Vincent’s secret gay lover, but when Rayane mentions this speculation to co-workers, Rayane’s thoughts are immediately ridiculed.

In addition to the horror aspects of the film, “Titane” brings up a lot of incisive observations of gender roles in society, particularly what it means to be “masculine” and to be taken seriously as a man. These issues obviously come up with Alexia in disguise as Adrien, as she adjusts to working in an all-male environment. And viewers can see the obvious differences between how she is treated in life as a woman compared to how she is treated when she’s living her life as a man.

But gender issues are very much evident with Vincent, who abuses steroids (which he injects in his rear end, to hide the needle marks and bruises) because he confesses to someone that he’s afraid of looking old and weak. The drug abuse is also a manifestation of his emotional pain. Vincent is very much caught up in projecting a “macho” image to most people, so he hides his emotional pain behind this image. Over time, Alexia (as Adrien) and Vincent begin to understand that they have a lot more in common than they thought, because of their neuroses and emotional issues.

Because most of “Titane” is about the relationship between Alexia/”Adrien” and Vincent, there’s a great deal of the movie where Rousselle does not speak and has to use her facial expressions and body language to convey her character’s emotions. It’s a fascinating performance. Even in Alexia’s life under her true identity, Alexia wasn’t much of a talker.

Lindon is equally absorbing as an emotionally wounded man who has to pretend to the world that he’s strong and stable. There’s a well-acted scene soon after he meets “Adrien” where Vincent begins crying because he sees that “Adrien” can’t or won’t talk. It’s in this moment that Vincent, who is lonely and starving for human affection, begins to understand that the person who will be living with him probably won’t be talking to him at all.

It’s why “Titane” is more than a gory horror movie. Despite some flaws of abrupt shifts in the plot and not providing enough backstory for the protagonist, “Titane” is really a story about human connections and how people deal with their inner pain. With “Titane,” Ducournau has delivered a memorable film that can not only show humanity at its cruelest, but also how compassion can be found amongst the cruelty. “Titane” is also a movie where people’s reactions to it say more about the viewers than about the characters in the movie.

Neon will release “Titane” in select U.S. cinemas on October 1, 2021.

Review: ‘Mama Weed,’ starring Isabelle Huppert

July 25, 2021

by Carla Hay

Kamel Guenfoud, Isabelle Huppert and Youssef Sahraoui in “Mama Weed” (Photo courtesy of Brainstorm Media and Music Box Films)

“Mama Weed”

Directed by Jean-Paul Salomé

French and Arabic with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in Paris, the comedy/drama “Mama Weed” features a cast of white, Middle Eastern and Chinese characters representing the working-class, middle-class and criminal underground.

Culture Clash: A middle-aged widow, who’s a language translator for a police department’s narcotics unit, steals a large supply of hashish from drug dealers and creates a persona as a savvy drug lord to sell the drug stash back to the unsuspecting drug dealers.

Culture Audience: “Mama Weed” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Isabelle Huppert and who are interested in dark comedies about drug trafficking, even if the story has some deliberately far-fetched elements.

Isabelle Huppert in “Mama Weed” (Photo courtesy of Brainstorm Media and Music Box Films)

There have been several movies about narcotics law enforcement agents who profit from selling drugs that they steal from drug dealers, but there’s none quite like “Mama Weed.” It’s a movie that has playful fun with the concept that a middle-aged widow who works as a translator for a Paris police department’s narcotics unit can “go rogue” and come up with a scheme to commit this crime. The movie’s dark comedic spin and Isabelle Huppert’s captivating performance make the hard-to-believe and absurdist elements of the plot easier to enjoy.

Directed by Jean-Paul Salomé, “Mama Weed” is based on Hannelore Cayre’s 2019 novel “The Godmother.” Salomé and Cayre co-wrote the “Mama Weed” screenplay. It’s a story that requires a certain suspension of disbelief that the protagonist gets away with as much as she does when she doesn’t do much to disguise her face and there are surveillance cameras in public areas where she does her deals. However, because she works in the same police narcotics unit that could potentially bust her for her misdeeds, she has access to information and resources that help her hide her criminal activities from her colleagues.

In “Mama Weed,” Huppert portrays Patience Portefeux, a translator for the Paris Police Department’s narcotics unit. She speaks Arabic, which is the first language of many the drug dealers who are arrested by the department. Patience is not a typical employee of a police department’s narcotics unit, because she has a Ph. D. in Arabic studies. What is she doing in a low-paying job at a police department? It’s never really explained, but it’s implied that because Patience is near the age range when most people retire, she hasn’t been able to find work anywhere else where she can use the type of education that she has.

Patience (who likes to wear black leather jackets and black jeans when she’s on the job) is not a frumpy, uptight woman who can’t handle the rough and dangerous work that she has to do as part of her job. Her work includes accompanying narcotics cops on their drug raids. She’s a fairly even-tempered police employee who doesn’t get easily rattled.

In the film’s opening scene, Patience is with her cop colleagues on a drug bust that involves Arabic-speaking drug dealers from a crime family whose last name is Abelaziz. The drug dealers have been arrested for possession of seven kilograms of hashish. Back at police headquarters, two of the suspects are being interrogated, with Patience acting as the translator.

One of the suspects won’t reveal any information and shouts at the interrogating cop, “Fuck you! I want a lawyer!” Another cop in the room starts to get rough with the suspect, by kicking him and hitting him. The suspect then spits on Patience, while the interrogating cop freezes in shock. Patience is horrified, but she takes this spitting assault in stride and doesn’t get emotional. Meanwhile, the violent cop angrily hauls off the suspect for what will probably be more police brutality.

After this tension-filled interrogation, Patience walks into her supervisor’s office to tell him what happened in the interrogation room and that the suspects probably won’t say anything incriminating while in custody. Patience’s boss Philippe (played by Hippolyte Girardot), who’s about the same age as she is, has recently been promoted to police chief. An upcoming drug bust will be the first under his command as chief of the department.

Philippe is concerned but not surprised that the suspect spit on Patience. He can’t get too disturbed by it though because it’s part of law enforcement’s job to expect suspects to attack anyone who works in law enforcement. Philippe also isn’t too concerned that the suspect isn’t giving up information while in custody, because the police department already has enough incriminating evidence in the form of secret audio recordings that they made of these drug dealers.

A lot of what Patience does in the office is translate this type of surveillance, which she sometmes has to do live, as these conversations are being recorded. It’s this part of the job that causes a turning point in her life and serves as the catalyst for what happens when Patience ends up “going rogue.” And there’s an extra complication that makes Patience’s criminal activities even riskier: Patience and Philippe (who’s an available bachelor) have been secretly sleeping with each other.

The word “romance” isn’t really the best description for this relationship, because although Patience is very fond of Philippe, she’s not in love with him. However, Philippe seems to be in love with Patience and drops hints that he wants them to live together. It’s a suggestion that she tactfully brushes off, because she seems to like her independence and wants to keep living alone in her condo apartment.

Patience has been a widow since 1994, when her husband Martin suddenly died of a stroke when he was 34 years old. Patience and her late husband have two adult daughters—Hortense (played by Iris Bry) and Gabrielle (played by Rebecca Marder)—who are both in their 20s. Based on conversations that Patience has with her daughters, Patience hasn’t had much of a dating life since her husband died. Getting intimately involved with Philippe seems like something that happened because she spends so much time at work and they’re both available.

Patience’s husband Martin died while they were on vacation in Oman. It was an annual trip that the family used to take and always looked forward to every year. But after Martin died, Patience didn’t want to go back to Oman because it brought back painful memories of his death. She still talks about Oman with a lot of affection though, as if she still has good memories of where she and her family used to go in Oman.

There are some other more immediate problems in Patience’s life because she’s been struggling financially. For years, she’s been paying off debts that her late husband owed. In addition, her ailing mother (played by Liliane Rovère), who doesn’t have a first name in the movie, is in an assisted living facility. Patience is a few months’ behind on paying the facility fees.

It’s later revealed in the movie that Patience’s mother is a Holocaust survivor. Patience’s father was an Algerian immigrant who met Patience’s mother in 1962. Patience’s Algerian heritage on her father’s side provides context for why she loves speaking Arabic and why she got her university education in Arabic studies.

At the assisted living facility, a kind, middle-aged Moroccan woman named Kadidja (played by Farida Ouchani) is the main caretaker for Patience’s mother. Patience and Kadidja have a friendly rapport with each other where they trust and respect each other. Kadidja knows what Patience does for a living. Kadidja is also very good at handling Patience’s mother, who can be cranky and stubborn. Patience and her mother seem to have a fairly good relationship that has been occasionally marred by typical mother-daughter squabbles.

One day on her job, Patience is listening in on live surveillance by narcotics cops, who have been tracking a suspected drug courier in his early 20s. This suspect is driving a truck carrying a large shipment of hashish, and the truck is headed for Paris. (The cops have a GPS tracking device on the truck.) Patience overhears someone mention the suspect’s name, and she’s immediately alarmed. His name is Afid (played by Yasin Houicha), and based on his description and where the cops have been tracking him, he sounds exactly Kadidja’s son.

Patience uses her personal cell phone to breach protocol by secretly calling Kadidja to warn her that Afid is under surveillance by police and is about to be busted for this hash haul. Patience frantically advises Kadidja to call Afid and tell him about this impending drug arrest and to make an unplanned detour so he can find a way to hide or get rid of the drug stash before the cops can catch up to him. Patience also tells Kadidja to be careful of how she talks to Afid on his phone because the conversation will be recorded by the cops.

Afid does what his mother tells him to do, so that by the time the narcotics police catch up to him, Afid is arrested but there are no drugs in the truck. The cops think they have enough evidence on Afid to keep him in custody anyway, because of previous surveillance recordings where he incriminated himself as working with ths drug cartel. However, the narcs are frustrated because Afid won’t tell anyone where he hid the large supply of hash. They hope that Afid can give up information on his drug connections so they can bust the dealers who are higher-ranked in this drug cartel, but Afid isn’t likely to snitch.

The drug dealers who were expecting this large shipment are predictably furious. They are from the Cherkaouis crime family, led by two menacing brothers (played by Kamel Guenfoud and Youssef Sahraoui), who don’t have first names in the movie. These two brothers are hauled in for questioning by police, since the brothers were heard on audio surveillance. However, there’s not not enough evidence to put the brothers in jail, so they are let go.

In a private conversation between Philippe and Patience at the police station, he admits that he’s very embarrassed that this drug bust was bungled under his supervision. Patience tries to comfort him. The subject comes up about the narcotics unit using canines to detect drugs. Philippe mentions that after the dogs are retired from police work, they get sent to a local shelter. If the dogs don’t get adopted by a certain period of time, then they’re euthanized.

Philippe goes to an animal shelter website on his phone to show Patience some of the former polce dogs who are up for adoption there. Patience semi-jokes that he should help her adopt a dog. She sees a male German Shepherd on the wesbite that immediately catches her eye. And it plants an idea in her head: What if she got a former police dog to find that large supply of missing hash?

The next thing you know, Patience now owns the German Shepherd that she saw on the shelter website. She’s given the dog the name DNA. Patience tests his drug-sniffing skills when she lets him loose on some local drug dealers she sees on the streets. When she sees that the dog’s drug-sniffing skills are still very strong, she gets to work to find that drug stash.

Patience drives around with her dog DNA in places where she thinks someone would be able to hide the drug supply that went missing from the truck that Afid was driving. One of these places is a remote-looking field that has a locked shed. The dog goes crazy when she drives by and immediately runs up the shed, which is locked.

Patience breaks into the shed and—voilà—she finds the missing supply of hash. It’s not spoiler information to say that Patience found this drug stash, because people seeing this movie should already know that the main part of the story is that she’s selling stolen drugs by pretending to be a drug lord. The spoiler information is whether or not she gets caught.

The hash supply is so large that Patience has to rent a truck and go back to the shed more than once to retrieve it all. She hides all the hash (which is wrapped tightly in plastic brick-sized packages) in her apartment building’s storage room that she knows isn’t being used. And she thinks of small but important details, such as putting hanging air refresheners in the storage space to try to mininize the smell of hashish.

Patience plans to sell all the hash to the same drug dealers who were going to buy the stash before Afid got arrested. To entice the these drug dealers, she offers them a “discount.” She wants to use the money to pay off all her bills, give some money to Kadidja to help with Afid’s legal problems, and use the rest of the money to live off of comfortably in retirement.

It’s a very risky plan that yields some comical results. One of the problems that Patience encounters is her nosy neighbor Colette Fo (played by Nadja Nguyen), a Chinese immigrant who’s suspicious of Patience’s sudden interest in the building’s unused storage space. Patience has bought a lock for the storage space so only Patience can access the space for the time being. (The movie conveniently never shows a superintendent in the building.)

Patience then creates a false persona as an out-of-town drug lord named Mrs. Ben Barka. Because she speaks fluent Arabic, she disguises her ethnic identity by pretending to be Middle Eastern. Some people might be offended that all of the movie’s drug dealers are of Middle Eastern heritage, because in reality there are plenty of white drug dealers who exist in France.

The Cherkaouis brothers have never heard of Mrs. Ben Barka, so they send two bumbling henchmen named Scotch (played by Rachid Guellaz) and Chocapic (played by Mourad Boudaoud) to check out Mrs. Barka to see if she’s legitimate and not an undercover cop. She’s able to easly fool them because she’s picked up enough drug-dealing lingo from her job to sound convincing. Patience finds out later that the drug dealers have privately given Mrs. Barka the nickname Mama Weed.

But here’s the part of the movie where viewers have to suspend disbelief: While Patience is interacting with these dealers as Mrs. Barka/Mama Weed, she is able to avoid being identified by her cop colleagues who have the Cherkaouis drug cartel under audio and video surveillance. Some of it can be explained away, because at the police station, she has access to evidence that she could steal, delete or destroy if necessary.

Patience only wears a hijab and sunglasses for her disguise. That doesn’t sound like it would be enough to disguise her identity if she’s caught on surveillance video, but she’s careful to try to stay out of camera range as much as possible. Even more inexplicably, she often doesn’t bother to wear sunglasses in places where there’s sure to be video surveillance that’s not controlled by the police. Luckily for her, the quality of this surviellance video is so low that her image shows up as quite blurry.

As for possibly being recorded by the police’s audio surveillance, viewers of this movie will have to assume that the officers won’t recognize Patience’s voice on the recordings when she speaks Arabic, or that Patience got to the audio surveillance evidence first and was able to get rid of it. There are several scenes in the movie that imply that the French-speaking cops in the narcotics unit completely trust Patience in her job when she’s given access to surveillance recordings where people speak Arabic. They leave her to do the translating and transcribing with little to no supervision or independent verification.

There is one person in the police department who notices that Patience bears a striking resemblance to the Mrs. Barka/Mama Weed who’s suddenly being seen with members of the drug cartel that the police want to arrest. (It’s very easy to predict who’s the first to notice.) However, Patience laughs it off when it’s mentioned to her. The person who sees the physical resemblance doesn’t want to believe that Patience is capable of being the experienced drug lord that Mrs. Barka/Mama Weed appears to be, so it doesn’t take much for this person to dismiss these suspicions.

As far-fetched as Patience’s plan might seem to be, it’s actually fairly shrewd because she would be one of the last people ever suspected of concocting this plan. Hiding in plain sight, indeed. This movie’s concept wouldn’t work if Patience weren’t an insider in the police department’s narcotics unit, with access to evidence and information about how the narcotics investigations were being handled.

What would motivate someone like Patience to commit these very hazardous crimes? The movie points out in subtle and nuanced ways that Patience has a history of being closer to criminals than she would like to publicly admit. Near the beginning of the film, Hortense bitterly mentions that her late father Martin was a “crook” who left behind “20 years of debt” that Patience was stuck with having to pay. Patience chastises Hortense and tells her not to talk about her dead father in that way.

Throughout the movie, Patience sometimes makes offhand remarks to her cop colleagues that she has some sympathy for the drug dealers because she seems to think that drug-related punishments don’t fit the crimes. Her comments get mildly surprised reactions but not enough to arouse suspicion. However, it explains why she was eager to help Kadidja, even though Kadidja is not a close friend.

And there’s probably some unspoken anger and bitterness behind Patience wanting to steal the drug stash and sell it. Patience most likely thinks that at her age and with her education, she should be doing better in her life. Instead, she’s stuck in a low-paying job and barely able to pay her bills and debts. It’s easy to see how someone like Patience might think that she got a raw deal in life and wants to take it out on the justice system—or at least take it out on the police department that’s underpaying her.

As for the drug dealers being so gullible, there are many real-life true crime cases where criminals do the dumbest things and make the most illogical decisions out of pure greed. It’s not implausible to think that these drug dealers wouldn’t really care about where Mama Weed got her drug supply, as long as they know they’re getting a huge discount. In their minds, they might think Mama Weed is the stupid one for selling the hash for below the market value.

And that’s one of the messages of this movie: Don’t be surprised by what people will do because of greed. Patience is one of the people who’s not immune to greed becoming a blind spot that clouds her judgment. One of the best things about “Mama Weed” is that it doesn’t make Patience a criminal mastermind. She makes some mistakes that cause some very close calls for her.

However treacherous things might get for Patience and other people, the movie keeps a sly comedic tone, with plenty of wisecracking (especially between Patience and Colette), to remind viewers not to take it all too seriously. A slapstick shootout scene toward the end of the movie is filmed a little awkwardly and almost brings “Mama Weed” into cartoonish territory. But because of Huppert’s immense talent in balancing comedy and drama, her performance is worth watching in this unconventional crime caper.

Brainstorm Media and Music Box Films released “Mama Weed” in select U.S. cinemas on July 16, 2021, and on digital and VOD on July 23, 2021. The movie was previously released in various countries (including France and Canada) in 2020.

Review: ‘A Perfect Enemy,’ starring Tomasz Kot, Marta Nieto and Athena Strates

July 16, 2021

by Carla Hay

Tomasz Kot and Athena Strates in “A Perfect Enemy” (Photo courtesy of Brainstorm Media)

“A Perfect Enemy”

Directed by Kike Maíllo

Some language in French with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place mostly in Paris, the dramatic film “A Perfect Enemy” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: While on a business trip in Paris, a famous Polish architect becomes acquainted with a mysterious young woman, who ends up stalking him and telling him disturbing things while they’re waiting for a plane flight at an airport.

Culture Audience: “A Perfect Enemy” will appeal primarily to people who like psychological thrillers and are willing to overlook some bad acting and overly talkative screenplays with a lot of scenes that don’t really go anywhere.

Marta Nieto in “A Perfect Enemy” (Photo courtesy of Brainstorm Media)

“A Perfect Enemy” keeps a certain level of suspense, but too much of this psychological thriller is undone by subpar acting, dialogue that rambles and a sluggish pace during the middle of the movie. The movie’s ending is a big disappointment. Viewers will be kept guessing over the real identity of a young female provocateur who latches on to a famous male architect, who’s more than twice her age, and she refuses to leave him alone. The two of them spend most of the movie waiting for a flight at an airport. Yawn.

In other words, don’t expect there to be a lot of action in this movie, since much of the film consists of conversations in the airport. Any expectations of “A Perfect Enemy” being a heart-pounding, mind-bending “cat and mouse” chase will come to a screeching halt when viewers have to sit through numerous scenes of the young stalker telling her prey some disturbing but mostly boring flashback stories.

Directed by Kike Maíllo, “A Perfect Enemy” might turn off some viewers from the beginning, because of the movie’s opening scene, which has some very wooden acting from Tomasz Kot. He portrays “A Perfect Enemy” protagonist Jeremiasz Angust, a famous architect in his 40s, who’s originally from Warsaw, Poland. In this scene, Jeremiasz is doing a speaking appearance at an unnamed conference in Paris. Watching this scene is almost painful, because Kot’s speech patterns are so stilted and awkward.

In the speech, Jeremiasz says that early on his career, he was obsessed with designing beautiful buildings. But about 20 years ago, Jeremiasz says that he went through a “crisis” that made him re-think the meaning of his work. “The uncomfortable truth is,” Jeremiasz adds, “what we call architecture, it’s really the business of designing for the wealthiest 1% of the population. It’s not only wrong, in terms of social justice, it’s also a clumsy business strategy.”

Jeremiasz continues by saying that when he had this socially conscious epiphany, he changed his priorities in architecture. Instead of serving the wealthiest “one percenters,” he decided to serve the underprivileged. For example, he traveled to Rwanda to build hospitals. Jeremiasz comments, “I truly believe that great architecture can heal, as long as it’s focused on what’s truly essential and forgets everything else.”

Jeremiasz’s speech is well-received; he gets enthusiastic applause from the audience. Outside in the lobby area, as he’s about to leave, he has fans waiting for him, and they ask for his autograph and request photos with him. He willingly obliges and seems to appreciate the admiration. But Jeremiasz can’t stay and mingle with his fans for long because he’s got a plane to catch out of Paris, and his service car with a driver is waiting for him.

On the way to the airport, it’s pouring rain and there’s a traffic jam. While stuck in traffic, a woman in her early 20s who’s on a nearby sidewalk gets Jeremiasz’s attention and asks him if he’s going to the airport because she’d like to share his ride. She explains that she’s very close to missing her plane flight. She desperately needs a ride because she’s been trying in vain for several minutes to find an available taxi.

Jeremiasz says he’s going to the airport too, but he hesitates to let this stranger in the car. When she turns away in a defeated manner and says, “Forget it,” Jeremiasz feels sorry for her and tells her that she can share the ride with him to the airport. Her demeanor changes from dejected to grateful, and she thanks him profusely.

Who is this woman? She has an unusual name: Texel Textor (played by Athena Strates), and she says she’s Dutch. In fact, every time she talks to someone new, she introduces herself using the exact same words and always mentions that she’s Dutch. It’s almost like she’s programmed to introduce herself in this way, but (this isn’t spoiler information) Texel is not a robot.

Texel and Jeremiasz make small talk in the back of the car. She’s very chatty, and she seems to be an upbeat free spirit. Texel is also very observant, because she immediately notices Jeremiasz’s name and address on his luggage. He tells her that he’s an architect and that he’s in Paris on business. Texel shows the first sign that she’s going to ruin Jeremiasz’s trip when, a few minutes after getting into the car, she says that she left a piece of her luggage out on the sidewalk where she had been trying to hail a taxi.

Going back to retrieve the luggage, especially in this traffic jam, means that Jeremiasz will definitely miss his flight. Jeremiasz asks her if she can find another ride to go back for her luggage. Texel gets a little snippy by saying that she already spent too much time trying to hail a taxi before, and she doesn’t think the lack of available taxis will change now. And so, Jeremiasz tells his driver to turn around so Texel can get her luggage. Luckily, the luggage is still right where she left it.

By the time they get to the airport, Jeremiasz is slightly irritated that he missed his flight, but he seems to be relieved to not have to see Texel again, as they say goodbye and go their separate ways. After he rebooks to be on the next available flight, which will take off in about two hours, Jeremiasz settles into the VIP lounge to relax and listen to whatever he’s listening to on his headphones.

It should come as no surprise that Texel shows up in the lounge and makes her way to Jeremiasz, who is surprised to see her there. And what do you know, she’s waiting for the exact same flight. Is this a weird coincidence or something else? There would be no “A Perfect Enemy” if it were just a weird coincidence.

Texel strikes up another conversation with Jeremiasz, but she can’t take the hint that he doesn’t want her to bother him. When he tells her that he just wants to spend some time by himself, she acts insulted. Texel won’t go away, and her attitude changes from friendly to bizarre and menacing.

For example, at one point, Texel says to Jeremiasz, “Have you ever killed anyone? I killed someone when I was little.” And in another part of the conversation, she says she knows about an “inner enemy” who’s “a thousand times more powerful than a wimp like God.” Jeremiasz tells her that he’s an atheist.

In case it isn’t clear by now, Texel’s “damsel in distress” persona was all an act. And, for a reason that’s revealed in the last third of the movie, she wants to have Jeremiasz’s full attention. And so, for the majority of the movie, it’s about Texel saying things that will annoy or shock Jeremiasz. But they’re sitting in an airport lounge while she does much of the talking, so there’s very little “terror” that can happen in this setting.

Jeremiasz is growing increasingly uncomfortable being in the presence of Texel. But she says something that intrigues him and makes him curious enough to continue listening to her unhinged ramblings. Texel says she’s going to tell Jeremiasz a three-part story. According to Texel’s description of the story, the first part is “disgusting,” the second part is “scary,” and the third part is “filled with love.” The storytelling is told in flashbacks.

In the first part of the story, Texel talks about her childhood and growing up in a household with an abusive stepfather (played by Götz Vogel von Vogelstein) and an uncaring mother. Texel goes into detail about the nauseating food slop that her mother and stepfather made her prepare for the animals on their farm. And you know what that means: There’s going to be a scene of Texel eating that slop too.

The airport where Jeremiasz and Texel are just happens to be an airport that Jeremiasz co-designed in 2002 with two other architects. There are model replicas of the airport in the airport’s main entrance and in the VIP lounge. When Jeremiasz tells Texel that he co-designed this airport, she seems impressed, but she’s much more impressed with what she has to tell Jeremiasz.

There are clues that something is very wrong in this airport, because every time Jeremiasz looks at this model replica, he sees red stains that look like blood on the outside entrance of the model replica. The stains grow larger as the movie continues. One of the more effectively eerie aspects of “A Perfect Enemy” is how this model replica has miniature human figurines that look like Jeremiasz and Texel and posed to re-enact a scene that was just shown in the movie. The mini-figurines are also dressed exactly like how Jeremiasz and Texel are dressed.

“A Perfect Enemy” wants to keep viewers wondering what Texel really wants from Jeremiasz and if her stories are really true. However, by making Texel and Jeremiasz “stuck” together in the same limited space in an airport for most of the movie, it actually makes “A Perfect Enemy” duller than it should be. The movie’s screenplay, which is based on Amélie Nothomb’s 2001 novel of the same name, was adapted by “A Perfect Enemy” director Maíllo, Cristina Clemente and Fernando Navarrro. Judging by the way this movie’s mystery was mishandled in the screenplay, viewers can see too early that something is “off-kilter” when an architect who designed the airport doesn’t go somewhere in the airport to hide from this stalker, who seems to have come out of nowhere.

Strates sometimes goes too over-the-top and too campy in playing this obviously demented person. It makes for an awkward match with Kot’s almost-robotic acting style. In other words, better actors would have made this movie more enjoyable. One cast member whose acting isn’t a detriment to the movie is Marta Nieto, who convincingly portrays a troubled woman named Isabelle, who has at least one big secret. Isabelle’s story is a major plot development that won’t be revealed in this review, but it’s eventually revealed in the movie. Unfortunately, Nieto doesn’t get nearly as much screen time as Kot and Strates, who both drag the movie down with their sometimes amateurish acting.

Strates demonstrates better acting skills than Kot does. He doesn’t have the actor charisma that’s necessary for viewers to emotionally connect with this film’s main character, in order for the ending to have more of an impact than it does. In the last 15 minutes of the film, Jeremiasz has some big, dramatic moments. But by then, viewers won’t care about Jeremiasz because he didn’t show much personality for most of the movie. And that’s ultimately a flaw that’s too big for “A Perfect Enemy” to overcome. A movie’s protagonist should keep viewers interested, not be so dull that viewers will want to stop watching the movie before it’s over.

Brainstorm Media released “A Perfect Enemy” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on June 11, 2021.

Review: ‘Uncorked,’ starring Mamoudou Athie, Courtney B. Vance and Niecy Nash

March 27, 2020

by Carla Hay

Mamoudou Athie in “Uncorked” (Photo by Nina Robinson/Netflix)

“Uncorked”

Directed by Prentice Penny

Culture Representation: Taking place in Memphis and Paris, the comedy-inflected drama “Uncorked” has a diverse cast of African Americans and white characters representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: An African American man in his 20s is torn between wanting to become a master sommelier and his father’s wishes for him to take over the family’s barbecue restaurant business.

Culture Audience: “Uncorked” will appeal mostly to people who want to see a relatable drama about family relationships, as well as what it’s like to try to break into the competitive and elite world of master sommeliers.

Mamoudou Athie and Courtney B. Vance in “Uncorked” (Photo by Nina Robinson/Netflix)

“Uncorked” takes an authentic and sometimes humorous look at the journey a young man goes through in pursuing his dream to become a master sommelier, even though it conflicts with family obligations. In telling this unique story for the screen, writer/director Prentice Penny just happened to make the protagonist an African American. However, “Uncorked” doesn’t take the cliché route of making the movie about racism or about an underprivileged person of color who gets help from a “white savior.” Instead, the movie touches on universal themes of family tensions and self-doubt through the lens of African American middle-class culture.

The two conflicting worlds of central character Elijah (played by Mamoudou Athie) are made abundantly clear in the opening credits, which alternate between montages of people making barbecue and people making wine. Elijah, who appears to be in his mid-to-late-20s, is holding down two jobs in his hometown of Memphis: He’s a sales clerk at a wine shop and a cook in his father’s casual barbecue restaurant. He’s a lot more passionate about his wine job, and he only works at his father’s place because he feels obligated to do it.

Elijah’s father Louis (played by Courtney B. Vance) inherited the barbecue place from his own father, and Louis expects to Elijah (his only son) to take over the restaurant someday. It’s truly a family business because Elijah’s mother Sylvia (played by Niecy Nash) also works there, as a waitress. Louis also has plans to open a second, more upscale barbecue restaurant in a “gentrified” neighborhood. Elijah’s close-knit family includes Elijah’s cousins, Elijah’s older sister Brenda (played by Kelly Jenrette), Brenda’s husband and their three kids,

However, Elijah’s passion is really for the wine business. It’s evident in how he lights up when talking about wine and recommending selections to customers at the wine shop. One customer in particular sparks more than just an interest in recommending wine. He meets a young woman named Tanya (played by Sasha Compère) when she comes into the store with a friend to get a bottle of wine for a party.

Tanya doesn’t know much about wine, but Elijah puts her at ease by asking her if she likes hip-hop. She says yes. In helping her make her choice, he explains that chardonnay is like the Jay-Z of wine, pino grigio is like the Kanye West of wine and riesling is like the Drake of wine. (She ends up getting riesling wine.)

It’s no surprise that Tanya comes back to the store on another day and takes Elijah’s suggestion to join the store’s wine club, which is how she gives Elijah her contact information. They begin dating each other soon afterward. (Their first date is at a roller-skating rink.)

Tanya encourages Elijah to pursue his dream to become a master sommelier—a title that, as of this writing, only 269 people in the world have ever held, according to the Court of Master Sommeliers. Elijah’s boss at the wine store, Raylan Jackson (played by Matthew Glave), also encourages Elijah and says he will put in a recommendation for Elijah if he ever wants to go to sommelier school. Raylan is a master sommelier, and Elijah looks wistfully at the sommelier diploma that Raylan has.

Meanwhile, there’s increasing tension between Elijah and his father Louis. When Louis tries to get Elijah to do things that will prepare Elijah to take over the barbecue business, Elijah makes excuses by saying he has other plans, usually related to his wine job. Over a large family dinner, Elijah mentions that he’s thinking about going to sommelier school. Louis then makes a snide comment to Elijah by expressing doubt that Elijah will follow through on that goal. He reminds Elijah that he’s had other career goals (including being a DJ) that Elijah eventually abandoned.

Elijah’s mother Sylvia, who’s completely supportive of Elijah, later scolds Louis in private for embarrassing Elijah in front of the family. The back-and-forth banter and conversations between Louis and Sylvia are some of the funniest parts of the movie. Their dialogue rings true for a longtime married couple.

What also rings true is the way that the movie shows that when it comes to pursuing a dream, sometimes people can get in their own way, through self-doubt and making excuses. Tanya essentially tells Elijah that’s what he’ll be doing if he doesn’t take a chance and apply to sommelier school. It’s the extra encouragement he needs to take the entrance exam. And he gets into the school—but not without a major sacrifice. The only way he can pay for the tuition is to use all of his savings.

Even though Elijah tells Louis he can still work at the barbecue restaurant while he attends school, both father and son know that Elijah is now on a path that will change their relationship forever. Elijah is a talented student and a quick learner. But it’s one thing to graduate from sommelier school. It’s quite another thing to pass the extremely difficult test to become a master sommelier. (Based on the small percentage of master sommeliers in the world, most people who take the test don’t pass.)

While attending sommelier school, Elijah meets the three other people who end up in his study group: neurotic and obnoxious Richie (played by Gil Ozeri); cocky and intelligent Eric (played by Matt McGorry), who’s nicknamed Harvard because he went to Harvard University; and sensible and sarcastic Leann (played by Meera Rohit Kumbhani). Another challenge comes when Elijah’s sommelier class goes on a trip to Paris that he can’t really afford. 

Will Elijah get to go to Paris? Will he pass the master sommelier test? And how is his relationship with his father affected by these sommelier ambitions? Those questions are answered in the movie, which has a few twists and turns along the way.

“Uncorked” is the first feature film by writer/director Penny, who’s a former writer/director for the HBO comedy series “Insecure,” starring Issa Rae. The movie is an admirable debut that shows Penny has a knack for entertaining writing and making the right choices in editing and casting. (All the actors adeptly handle the movies comedic elements as well as the overall drama.)

To its great credit, “Uncorked” doesn’t get bogged down in stereotypical tropes of an African American trying to break into a predominantly white industry. There are no racist villains in the story, nor does Elijah have a negative attitude about the extremely small percentage of African Americans who end up being sommeliers. However, “Uncorked” doesn’t water down the African American culture that’s shown in the movie. (The soundtrack is hip-hop and there’s plenty of realistic dialogue in the film.)

As the central character Elijah, Athie carries the movie with a significant deal of charm and empathy. He makes great use of facial expressions to convincingly portray the inner conflicts of someone who wants to please his father and yet be his own man. The father-son relationship is complicated, but there’s also enough respect between the two of them that they don’t deal with conflicts by having obscenity-filled shouting matches, which are over-used negative stereotypes in movies about African American families. “Uncorked” is ultimately about more than just pursuing a dream. It’s also about understanding that in order to stay true to yourself, you have to know you really are in the first place.

Netflix premiered “Uncorked” on March 27, 2020.

Four Seasons Hotel George V, Paris unveils new Le Spa

July 9, 2018

(Photo courtesy of Four Seasons Hotel George V, Paris)

The following is a press release from Four Seasons:

Four Seasons Hotel George V, Paris officially unveils its new Le Spa this 9 July, offering a sanctuary of haute couture tailor-made, results-driven treatments in the bustling heart of the city.

The brand new Spa, spread over 720m², includes a 17-metre (55-foot) swimming pool, vitality pool with hydro-massage water experience circuit heated to 34°C, a 90 m² cutting-edge fitness room, and a stylish hair salon. In addition to the five single treatment rooms, two luxury hammams for men and women and a Spa Suite for couple treatments.

“We are delighted to introduce Le Spa, a contemporary space of style and serenity in the heart of the city. A place where Parisian elegance meets caring Four Seasons service, delivered by our team of passionate therapists who are dedicated to making you look and feel your best”, says Jean-Claude Wietzel, General Manager of Four Seasons Hotel George V, Paris.

Renowned Parisian interior designer Pierre-Yves Rochon has created a space that is at once bright, modern and elegant drawing on ancient spa traditions, with a colour palette of light grey and silver tones. Inspiration from Greek, Roman and Turkish mosaic patterns lies alongside carefully curated pieces of modern art and spectacular floral compositions designed by Jeff Leatham. “We meticulously selected materials, furniture and pieces of art that embody the spirit codes and harmony of the hotel, both classic and resolutely contemporary” comments Rochon.

Key features of Le Spa include:

Four Seasons Hotel George V, Paris
(Photo courtesy of Four Seasons Hotel George V, Paris)

Swimming Pool
The 17-metre (55-foot) mosaic-lined swimming pool is the perfect spot for poolside relaxation, complemented by a 34°C vitality pool experience.

(Photo courtesy of Four Seasons Hotel George V, Paris)

Fitness Centre
The 90 m² fitness centre offers a selection of the latest cutting edge cardiovascular equipment specially designed by Technogym for Le Spa, with chrome-plated equipment, including treadmills, bikes, ascent trainers, elliptical, and a rowing machine. A 7-metre long screen transports guests to the great outdoors with an interactive movie about nature bringing the four seasons into the very heart of the Hotel.

(Photo courtesy of Four Seasons Hotel George V, Paris)

Hair salon
With two hair dressing stations, the hair salon offers complete high-end hair treatments for women and men leaving guests guaranteed to turn heads as soon as they step outside.

(Photo courtesy of Four Seasons Hotel George V, Paris)

A tailor-made, results-driven approach 
In the city of haute couture, what could be more fitting then a menu of treatments tailor-made to provide the best results from the most reputable French and international brands? Le Spa will offer personalized experiences addressing the needs of all skin types, using a hand-picked collection of products and techniques developed in conjunction with globally recognized Spa and beauty experts.

A selection of brand new Signature Experiences has been developed to harness the core spirit of the Spa, providing bespoke sensory journeys that deliver tangible results. Highlights include a Kobido traditional Japanese facelift, an Alaena organic certified bio anti-ageing treatment, and a Dr Burgener escape designed especially for the Spa.

Kobido: a rare, traditional Japanese facelift created by Dr. Shogo Mochizuki
In Japanese, Kobido means “the ancient way of beauty”, and is the oldest facial tradition in Japan, following a lineage that dates back to 1472. Tradition states that this therapy was reserved exclusively for imperials and nobility for centuries. Le Spa is proud to bring this tradition to modern-day Paris, with Dr. Shogo Mochizuki having come personally to Le Spa to share his expertise with the team of therapists.

(Photo courtesy of Four Seasons Hotel George V, Paris)

Breath of Life by Alaena: an organic treatment signed by Dr Sylvie Peres from France
This body and face treatment is inspired by Tui Na, a therapeutic art of Chinese Medicine, using patented active ingredients to boost cells rejuvenation and impart an anti-ageing effect.

George V Escape by Dr. Pauline Burgener, Switzerland
Created exclusively for Le Spa, this luxurious customised antioxidant treatment combines a Chardonnay body scrub, a massage with Champagne oil, and a facial harnessing the antioxidant power of gold, Chardonnay and green caviar. A sweet treat of a Four Seasons Hotel George V macaron and a glass of Champagne complete this uniquely Parisian experience.