From the director of the acclaimed LIFE IS A LONG QUIET RIVER comes TATIE DANIELLE, a jovially meanspirited, though toothless, farce about an aunt from hell who finally meets her match.
Tatie Danielle (Tsilla Chelton) is an embittered, elderly widow still mourning the death of her cross-eyed colonel husband and wishing she could be with him. While waiting for the end to come, her main preoccupation has been wearing out her equally elderly caretaker (Neige Dolsky) with constant
demands and disagreeable habits, from complaining about the food to tramping on the flowers in the garden. When the caretaker meets her timely end in a fall while attempting to clean the chandelier, on her boss's orders, Tatie's family sells her house and takes her in.
A war of wills ensues between Tatie and her family that escalates with the family's decision to take a vacation in Greece, leaving Tatie behind in the care of the au pair, Sandrine (Isabelle Nanty), who's every bit as meanspirited and embittered as Tatie. Realizing that she won't drive Sandrine
away with vinegar, Tatie tries honey. She pays a hefty repair bill on Sandrine's car and gives her a valuable piece of jewelry in the hope that she can persuade Sandrine to take her on a vacation of her own, perhaps permanently. Instead, Sandrine meets a good-looking American student who wants
Sandrine to spend his last night in France with him at the beach. After a pitched argument over the rendezvous, which would leave Tatie unattended overnight, Tatie fires Sandrine.
With Sandrine gone, and no one else around to torment, Tatie descends into a depression, eating dog food (the family pooch having been abandoned by Tatie and Sandrine when they were planning their trip) and finally setting the family apartment on fire. In the ensuing firestorm of publicity, Tatie
becomes a national sweetheart and her family national villains ("They should bring back the death penalty," one observer mutters.) Removed from her "cruel" family, Tatie is placed in a luxury convalescent home, where she has a whole new batch of people to happily terrorize, until she disappears
with Sandrine, who returns to make good on her promise to take Tatie on a trip.
Despite ample opportunities to lapse into bad taste, director Etienne Chatiliez brings a commendably low-key, uninflected style to this twisted sitcom about a "sweet" little old lady with seemingly no redeeming qualities. As wonderfully portrayed by French stage veteran Chelton, Tatie may not be
sweet, but she's amply likable. She mercilessly picks on her acquaintances and family. But they tend to be people richly in need of picking on, especially her family, who are typical French bourgeoisie--overstuffed, vain and unendurably self-satisfied. By contrast, Tatie largely lays off her gay,
teenaged nephew--at least he's not afraid to be what he is--and Sandrine, in whom she recognizes a kindred spirit betrayed by life.
She instead concentrates her ire on her pasty, paunchy, hen-pecked nephew; his wife, who worries over losing the "glow" in her skin and makes a living exploiting the vanity of other women as the owner of a pricey beauty salon; and their younger nephew, a whiny, annoying, budding momma's boy--Baby
Leroy to Chelton's female W.C. Fields. However, again to Chatiliez's credit and to that of co-screenwriter Florence Quentin, there are no real monsters here. Tatie's family may be boring, but they're not evil. They're just average, which probably bugs Tatie more than it would if they were evil.
Finding new ways to torment the bourgeoisie in French comedies is certainly nothing new. What is new--and what makes TATIE DANIELLE part of a currently fashionable backlash against the nouvelle vague--is that the attack on the middle class comes this time from a representative of the older
generation rather than from the younger. In fact, Chatiliez has a ways to go before he can light the Gauloises of someone like aging New Waver Claude Chabrol, who used a disagreeable oldster to torment the bourgeoisie in his "Inspector Lavardin" films with far more finesse and much more of an
edge. If falling short of brilliant, however, TATIE DANIELLE is nevertheless amply entertaining on its own offbeat terms. (Profanity, adult situations.)
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- Released: 1991
- Rating: NR
- Review: From the director of the acclaimed LIFE IS A LONG QUIET RIVER comes TATIE DANIELLE, a jovially meanspirited, though toothless, farce about an aunt from hell who finally meets her match. Tatie Danielle (Tsilla Chelton) is an embittered, elderly widow stil… (more)