Monday, November 29, 2021

Film Review: "Mama Weed"

Mama Weed, now on Amazon Prime and YouTube, stars the accomplished French actress Isabelle Hupppert and is based on the book The Godmother: A Crime Novel by Hannelore Cayre, which won the 2019 Grand Prix de Littérature Policière, France’s most prestigious award for crime fiction. 

Huppert plays Patience Portefeux, a middle-aged Arabic language PhD working as a police interpreter on drug cases, while worrying about paying for her mother's care facility and her own retirement. Her boss, with whom she's having an affair, offers to take care of her but, true to her deceased husband's memory and not really into following the law, she takes a different path. 

Patience's father, it is revealed, was a penniless Algerian immigrant who skirted the law out of necessity, and she has sympathy for the people she spies on through police wiretaps, "all to send kids to jail to get radicalized for three grams of hash." Or, as Cayre writes, "The interpreter was simply a tool to accelerate the act of repression." Patience sometimes colored her translations or "invented things" to help needy defendants, or did the opposite when they tried to implicate their poorly-treated wives or girlfriends. 
"From the first day of my professional life, I had understood that there was no logical point to my work," Patience says in The Godmother.  "Fourteen million cannabis users in France and 800,000 growers living off that crop in Morocco. The two countries are friendly, yet those kids whose haggling I listened to all day long were serving heavy prison sentences for having sold their hash to the kids of cops who were prosecuting them and and of the judges who were sentencing them, not to mention all the lawyers who were defending them...

"I can only think though—even if my cop boyfriend insists I'm wrong—that this excess of resources, this furious determination to drain the sea of hash inundating France, teaspoon by teaspoon, is above all else a tool for monitoring the population insofar as it allows identity checks to be carried out on Arabs and Blacks ten times a day." 

France's terrior, the "sacred, wine-producing soil of France" allowed citizens to be "plastered from morning to night," writes Cayre. "Too bad for the Muslims, but all they have to do is hit the booze like everybody else if they want to work on their inner beauty." Not lost on her character is the irony that almost all the staff at her mother's caretaking facility are Black or Arab.

When one of the couriers, selling farm-direct from a one-man craft farm in Morroco, turns out to be the son of her mother's caretaker Kadidja (Farida Ouchani), Patience warns Kadidja and intercepts the shipment herself, with the aid of a retired drug-sniffing police K9 she adopts. She is soon disguising herself as a Moroccan woman and selling the hash, with the aid of two comical criminals she has also been listening in on, nicknamed Scotch and Cocoa Puff. 

The movie is mainly populated with the women in Patience's life, such as her mercenary Chinese landlady Madame Fo (Nadja Nguyen), who helps Patience launder her money and offers her a way out. The film has the inevitable violent scene as the criminals who expected the delivery show up, but the aptly-named Patience remains calm and detached as only the French can, finally enjoying a bit of her product in a joint after she has wrapped up her caper (pictured). 

Mama Weed is testament to how good a film about marijuana can be when it's well written, acted and directed. It addresses the complex political and social issues around the international marijuana market, while remaining humorous, surprising, and suspenseful. So many filmmakers try this and fail; even the French series "Family Business" was mostly farce and male dominated, and devolved into crazy violence (perpetrated by a woman).

I liked Mama Weed much better than the dreary US film Freedland, which follows a Humboldt county, CA pot grower surrounded by scummy or sad, mostly uninteresting characters, topped with a nonsensical ending. I'm trying to screw up the courage to watch LadyBuds, the new documentary on YouTube that follows several real-life women cannabis farmers who have also been left out by the new legalization laws. For now I am living in fantasy where women can have it all. 

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