by Geoffrey Churchman

La Darrone is the original French title and this is one of the movies in last month’s French Film Festival which was held at select Wellington cinemas, and has now made general release.

The script is written by Hannelore Cayre, author of the original novel, La Daronne, which took out the ‘Quais du Polar’, a prize awarded annually to the best crime or thriller novel by a European author in French or a French translation. And it’s an inventive plot — a woman Patience Portefeux (Isabelle Huppert) who is fluent in Arabic as well as French because of her late husband’s North African origins, is employed by Paris police to interpret messages between hash traffickers who enter France through Spain from Morocco and Algeria and speak Arabic to each other.

Portefeux’s mother is in a nursing home block in Paris and during visits often chats to her nurse, Farida, about each other’s family life. One day at work she hears a conversation between Farida and her smuggler son — and realises who they are. Instead of dobbing them in, she decides to cover for them. At the same time, Portefeux is on the financial rocks and owes money to the nursing home among others — and knowing where over 1 tonne of contraband drugs has been stashed, she decides to steal it and then sell it to local Paris dealers. She’s now playing a dangerous double game; and traffickers play rough when crossed. Her employers, the police are not going to be happy if/when they find out what she’s up to, either.

Her disguise in meetings with the dealers is an Islamic hijab croisé and sunnies, but that’s not quite enough for a complete disguise when analysed in CCTV zooms.

Other interpersonal relations get portrayed, between Portefeux and her adolescent daughters, her mother, nurse, and her boss at work who has the hots for her. And to round things out, her apartment landlord is a Chinese woman who has involvement with the underworld also.

The direction is skillful, although as is often the case in book to film adaption, plot holes become a little more apparent than might be the case in a novel alone.

The alternation between drama and comedic romp works, although again probably not as well as the novel suggested.

But for a Breaking Bad style story à la francaise, it’s worth seeing.

The Godmother/Mama Weed/La Daronne (104 minutes) is screening at the Shoreline.