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Caroline, a flamboyant 90 year-old and her grandson Stéphane explore the development and transmission of gender identity in a patriarchal environment. A family saga based on private archive footage, Madame offers a dialogue between an extravagant matriarch and her gay grandson, challenging the taboos of gender and sexuality.
Stéphane Riethauser lives in Berlin and has worked as a teacher, gay activist, editor and translator. He is the author of A Visage Découvert, a photography book about coming out, and he has also worked for RTS as a journalist and director. In 2007 he launched his company Lambda Productions and started working as an independent filmmaker.
Film Review: Nominated for Best Documentary at the 2020 Swiss Film Awards, Stéphane Reithauser’s Madame chronicles a journey of self-exploration and introspection, set against the backdrop of a fiercely oppressive patriarchal family structure in 1970s Geneva. Created entirely through deftly woven pieces of archived family footage and interspersed with flashes of iconography, paintings, diary extracts and intimate polaroids, Riethauser himself narrates the story of his childhood, his upbringing, his schooling, and ultimately coming to terms with his sexuality and his relationship with both men and women. Alongside this, we are shown a series of interviews and conversations with Reithasuer’s eccentric and loveable grandmother. Through these entwined narratives we are shown how both individuals exist outside of societal expectation and actively push against the stereotypes of their own genders. Riethauser provides an intersection between this exuberant matriarch and a young boy coming to terms with his identity which explores the dialogue between homophobia and sexism. Madame allows viewers an intimate and oftentimes familial and comedic insight into the navigation of gender, and establishes a commonality between - as Reithauser himself admits - the most unlikely of pairings. This heartfelt documentary allows us a glimpse into the private workings of oppression in all facets, and, most essentially, finds the mutuality in the seemingly parallel. Bryony Chellew