Amanda Sthers (director)
03 September 2018 (released)
19 September 2018
Not much happens in this Anglo-French ‘comedy of manners’ but a very talented ensemble cast – most notably Rossy de Palma, Michael Smiley and Toni Collette – ensure the entire affair wont be drowning in champagne… or the luxury swimming pool!
Enter Bob and Anne Fredericks (Harvey Keitel and Toni Collette), a super wealthy American couple living in a splendidly decorated house in Paris. Their marriage has seen better days but what’s a failing marriage when one is surrounded by luxury and opulence? It goes without saying that such opulent a lifestyle requires constant maintenance and a dedicated group of household staff (including cooks) ensure the Fredericks household runs like a clockwork. In particular long-suffering maid Maria (Rossy de Palma, a cubist face if ever there was one), a woman of Spanish descent, seems doomed to cater for Anne Fredericks every whim till her dying day. The truth is that Maria, living a single life, needs her job as she has an adolescent daughter to support and later on in the film we find out her daughter has aspirations to become a professional ice dancing champion.
In order to break up boredom and perhaps to rekindle things, the Fredericks organize a grand dinner party to which twelve friends are invited, among them a London editor (Brendan Patricks) and his gay boyfriend (the usual ‘gay London’ cliché awaits). That said, we are in for some hilariously sharp dialogue whenever the two appear in a scene. Further guests include wealthy local Frenchman Antoine Bernard (Stanislas Merhar), he of the wandering eye, and his glamorous yet equally bored wife Helene (Violaine Gillibert). Another eagerly expected guest is international art dealer David Morgan (Michael Smiley) who has been invited to authenticate an expensive painting the Fredericks intent on selling. One ‘guest’ though who turns up completely unexpected is Steven (Tom Fredericks), thus bringing the final number of guests to 13. Since Anne is not only arrogant, neurotic, pretentious, patronizing but also superstitious she won’t have a dinner party that includes 13 guests and voila, her maid Maria is drafted in to safe the evening! Anne lends her one of her own gowns and ensures that make-up artists and hairstylists descend upon the poor maid, making her feel even more nervous and awkward. Not able to bite her sarcastic tongue for more then five minutes Anne rolls her eyes in despair when Maria decides to wear her best (and only pair) of expensive shoes as naturally the footwear doesn’t get the seal of approval from snobbish Anne. In any case, shoes are hardly on display at a dinner table. Anne furthermore instructs Maria to pretend to be of aristocratic Spanish stock if asked but otherwise to keep quiet and above all go easy on the wine.
Too bad then that Maria is seated next to art dealer David who is smitten the minute he sets his eyes on the exotically peculiar looking ‘lady’. Before you can say “Salute” the pair hit if off. Overjoyed that David obviously finds her interesting Maria begins to chirpily down one glass of wine after another while telling crude jokes. All the guests at the dinner table find Maria refreshingly different and highly entertaining, only Anne looks at her with poisonous glances as if to say “Don’t you dare forget your position!”
Alas, David decides to pursue Maria in earnest, unaware that the Spanish aristo is in fact Anne’s maid. Much to Anne’s chagrin David and Maria meet for walks, outings and dinners around Paris – this is something Anne cannot allow to happen. After all, a maid is a maid and where would the world be if a humble maid would upstage her superiors? Consequently Anne leaves no stone unturned in trying to sabotage the budding romance between David and Maria while at the same time, she has an affair with Antoine, unaware that Bob knows full well what’s going on behind his back. Mind you, Bob isn’t exactly a saint either, having set his eyes on the much younger and pretty Fanny (Josephine de La Baume) who happens to be… his son’s fiancée!
And now the stage is set for a wordy comedy (albeit with dark undertones) that concludes with a rather predictable ending. As mentioned before, not much action here at all but more than the Fredericks’ dinner party is saved by the bubbly and irrepressible Rossy de Palma – in this country best known through her roles in Pedro Almadóvar movies.