Auntie Danielle, supposedly in ailing health but in reality just a nasty old bitch, lives with a paid housekeeper who she regularly abuses. When the housekeeper dies falling off a ladder, Da... Read allAuntie Danielle, supposedly in ailing health but in reality just a nasty old bitch, lives with a paid housekeeper who she regularly abuses. When the housekeeper dies falling off a ladder, Danielle moves in with her great-nephew and his family. She continues using her nastiness to... Read allAuntie Danielle, supposedly in ailing health but in reality just a nasty old bitch, lives with a paid housekeeper who she regularly abuses. When the housekeeper dies falling off a ladder, Danielle moves in with her great-nephew and his family. She continues using her nastiness to manipulate everyone into doing things her way until the family goes on vacation to Greece... Read all
And you better believe it. One of the film's most memorable shots is a masterstroke of silent comedy, in a park, two old ladies are sitting on benches, one of them is grumpily eating a cake, the other one, visibly amused, smilingly salutes her. The grumpy one immediately replies by sticking out her tongue and making such a childish grimace the smile immediately turns into disgust. That's Tatie Danielle.
She indeed hates everyone, except her beloved (deceased) husband, a man whose only relic is a majestic portrait of his glorious squinting face, cleverly representing our perspective as viewers, as she spends her time talking to him, and sharing her intimate feelings. Since he's the person she truly loved, she can afford to be sincere with him, and leave the rest of the time for her treacheries, her lies and manipulative acting. This is what makes the late Tsilla Chelton's performance so great, is that there are two levels of acting, she's playing an old woman who plays with people's emotions, a master of emotional intelligence who didn't need Daniel Goleman for that.
Still, what a heartless bitch! We discover her as she torments her surprisingly obedient (and equally old, too) servant. When she praises her good health saying "I'll die before you", Tatie Danielle retorts dryly "I hope so" as if it was the least God could do to her. Fate proves her right anyway, as she dies a few days later, and what a death, asked to clean a chandelier, she lamentably fell off the ladder. Tatie Danielle sheds no tears; she only understands that she doesn't need to play the miserable rhapsody to her great-nephew (Eric Prat) and his well- meaning wife Catherine (Catherine Jacob), she'll finally invade their privacy, such a small price to pay for the future heirs, no?
In fact no, for even in the sweetest and most patient environment, Tatie Danielle behaves like a spoiled brat, except that she's got the benefit of the age, and long years of human nature study behind her. And that is the film's most refreshing aspect, to (finally, I want to say) let an old person behave badly, oblivious to the hurt feelings of the beloved ones, not even the smaller ones. The poor little boy can't even show his drawing and is pushed outside her room, before she locks the door. Later, they go outside and she accidentally "loses" him before getting back home. I wasn't even sure I wanted to laugh. The film would feature a similar too-mean-for laughs moment I don't dare to spoil.
And the middle-act is just too delightful for words, and yes, watching Tatie Danielle tormenting the Family, especially the constantly sobbing Catherine, pretending to hate basil, or to stuff herself with food so she can better vomit at night, to ruin a nice evening with guests by turning on TV, asking for some food in the most miserable way, and getting off the chair by showing an ugly stain on her pajamas, hence inspiring one of the guest a commentary on the same level as De Gaulle observing Petain's downfall after the Liberation: "the old age is a ship wreck". What comes later will provide some interesting insights on Tatie Danielle's personality, indirectly answering the comment.
Following their friends' advice, the couple travels to Greece for summer holidays. Sandrine, a housekeeper, will take care of Tatie Danielle, who's ready to put her down, underestimating this big blue-eyed plump blonde, superbly played by Isabelle Nanty (the cigarette vendor in "Amelie"). Tatie Danielle refuses to get up, to eat in the kitchen, she spills water on bed, but Sandrine won't have it. She lets her sleep, doesn't serve her when time is past and takes her stolen money back their psychological duel reaches its pinnacle when coming back from a messy toilet, Sandrine gives Tatie Danielle one hell of a slap. Tatie Danielle has found her match, and for some reason, we're not surprised when later, the two become friends.
That's because the film carries the signature of director-writer Etienne Chatillez, whose films always work as powerful social commentaries beyond the comedy aspect. His previous hit, was "Life is a Long Quiet River" which was about of class struggle with the case of two exchanged babies as a backdrop. Tatie Danielle is the living proof that it's precisely because old age is a ship wreck that the only strength that is still viable is the power of being a little mean spirited, manipulative and greedy, of not turning back a smile, that's also part of human nature. It's more respectful toward old people not to make their gentleness and smiles obvious. Tatie Danielle needs this strength and only when she finds it in Sandrine, she reveals her good side.
With the other persons, it's another story. In a retiring house, an old lady who's been bullied by her and constantly prevented from watching TV with her, comes happily with her daughter, who just brought pastry. Later, the old lady comes back and finds Tatie Danielle devouring the cake, she says "isn't my daughter nice?" "Yes, but she's quite ugly", a moment with the same comical impact as the park scene, only with words. That's the comedic merit "Tatie Danielle", a comedy that also hits a sensitive chord, as 'Tatie Danielle' has became a brand-name for grumpy old female parent, we all know and have a 'Tatie Danielle' in our family.
And the film shows something subtle but very revealing about human nature: we're attached to mean persons? Why? Maybe because we subtly admire them, and the way they stick to themselves, and succeed in whatever they try. There's indeed something strangely and appealing about this lady.
After all, why would we come to see someone who, from the tag-line, already hates us?
- Jan 5, 2016