An apartment block in the French inner city. Robocops break down the door of a flat, roughing up the inhabitants, who are, as they say, “of migration background”. But everyone looks at a bit of a loss as to what to do next. “Where’s the interpreter?” She’s still putting on her body armour, but eventually saunters in, looking a bit shocked at the carnage.
This isn’t exactly the life that Patience foresaw for herself when she decided to study Arabic at university. Accompanying police raids, interpreting tapped telephone calls. It pays her wages (which aren’t very high) but instinctively she seems more on the side of the criminals than their pursuers. There’s always her boss, who has a soft spot for her, but even he’s a diehard copper.
Patience’s bills are rising. Her mother’s in an expensive care home, and there are still the debts of her late husband to pay off. One day when she’s listening in, she learns that there’s a drug dealer has been sent down, without his stash ever being found. She promptly adopts a sniffer dog called DNA and tours the area looking for storehouses.
The tiny, timid Patience transforms herself into a hijab-wearing drug queenpin (who we should never refer to as Mama Weed – whoever decided on the English title should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves). While feeding the police with misinformation from her translations, she hooks up with a pair of small time dealers to sell a basement full of drugs.
The hapless dealers are Arabs, natch, and there is a slight danger of the film falling into stereotypes. And yet somehow it never quite gets there. They may be a bit dumb, but their characters are well rounded enough to make them real people. Also Patience clearly shows an affinity with them, though is never cast as a white saviour.
If you read the plot, you may also feel a bit nervous at the fact that Patience is the only remaining French woman in a block inhabited largely by Chinese people. Yet again, though, these are believable people, not just stereotypes. At one point, Patience’s neighbour explains to her “at one point we used to call the police, but they never came out to Chinese people so we learned to deal with our own problems”. This could be the leitmotif for the film as a whole.
What holds it all together is the light charm of Isabelle Huppert, given time off some of her more serious roles to do something a bit silly. I can’t explain exactly why the sight of tiny Isabelle dragging around big packets of drugs or standing up to mafiosi is so funny – it just is. Of course it’s in part because she looks so frail, but it’s also down to the smile and twinkle in her eyes.
There is nothing really profound or innovative about Eine Frau mit berauschenden Talenten (I refuse to use the terrible English title), but there doesn’t need to be. It’s just a piece of fun, something to enjoy for what it is, then forget about almost immediately afterwards. It’s implausible, doesn’t make much sense, and is none the worse for any of this.
And in amongst the silliness there is a touch of profundity. Patience has an uneasy relationship with her mother, and is not sure that she’s lived up to expectations. But there’s something soothing about their bedside chats in a language that neither of us watching quite got (is it Yiddish? Some of the words were very close to German), which positions Patience as having much more heart than if she just wanted the money for herself.
I’m not sure this would have worked at all without Huppert, but she is compelling throughout. Also, fact fans, she is now 67 and doesn’t look anywhere close to this. Just looking up this fact, I learn from The Internet that Huppert is “ known for her portrayals of cold and disdainful characters devoid of morality.” Which is about as far from describing this film as you could get.