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Mado | Claude Sautet, 1976
France/Italy/West Germany | French with English subtitles | Format: 35mm | 135 minutes
“People sell themselves in different ways,” observes the wise title character in yet another of Sautet’s masterfully triangulated romantic dramas—this one set against a backdrop of recession economics and corporate malfeasance that feels uncannily au courant. Indeed, everyone and everything has a price in Mado: the debt-addled land developer Simon (Michel Piccoli); the oily Lépidon (Julien Guiomar), who specializes in bankrupting his competitors and buying up their assets at fire-sale prices; and the prostitute Mado (Ottavia Piccolo), who travels freely between the worlds of the haves and the have-nots, noticing ever less difference between the two. When his business partner commits suicide after becoming Lépidon’s latest victim, Simon vows revenge at any cost, and Mado suggests she may know just the way—with a little help from one of her other clients. The jealous Simon reluctantly agrees, and what follows recalls Polanski’s Chinatown in its intricate knotting of money, sex, politics and collateral victims. With strong support from Jacques Dutronc (as Piccoli’s accountant) and a haunting Romy Schneider (as the dead man’s widow), Mado finds Sautet at the peak of his powers for infiltrating the private lives of the haute bourgeoisie.
“Sautet is a master of modulation; he doesn't labor anything—not even the defeats of his characters. (They shrug, painfully, and move on.) This is a superlatively crafted story about the moral—and sexual—complexities of a real-estate swindle ... Piccoli probably does as fine a job at suggesting a shallow man's range of dissatisfaction with his existence as any actor who ever lived.”—Pauline Kael, The New Yorker