PAULINE AND PAULETTE is the bittersweet story of four elderly, middle-aged sisters and their relationship with each other. In the story, a simple minded elderly woman named Pauline living with Martha, the eldest of Pauline’s three sisters, in a small town between Brussels and the seacoast. Martha loves Pauline and cares for her day in and day out. Pauline has a love for flowers and enjoys visiting her other sister, Paulette, played by Ann Petersen. Pauline idolizes Paulette. Paulette owns a fabric store in town, but her grand passion is performing as the resident diva at the local opera house. When Martha dies, the elderly Paulette and her younger sister, Cecile, must decide what to do about Pauline.
Dora van der Groen and Ann Petersen are fabulous in the title roles. Dora superbly displays the simple-minded admiration Pauline has for Paulette. Ann beautifully portrays the embarrassment, exasperation and, ultimately, the joy and love that Pauline’s simple mindedness brings to Paulette’s life. The moral worldview of PAULINE AND PAULETTE is marred by a lack of spiritual depth and three obscenities. Otherwise, however, the movie is completely clean, funny, uplifting, and quietly powerful
(B, L, M) Moral worldview, but with no references to God or Jesus Christ, either positive or negative, although one main character wears a crucifix; 3 obscenities but no profanities or crude sexual language; no violence; no sex scenes, but one unmarried couple lives together; no nudity; no alcohol use; no smoking; and, greed implicitly rebuked.
This Easter season comes a beautiful, delicate little movie from Belgium called PAULINE AND PAULETTE. Winner of five Belgian “Oscars,” including best movie, PAULINE AND PAULETTE also won the Audience Award at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival. It is director Lieven Debrauwer’s first full-length movie.
PAULINE AND PAULETTE is the bittersweet story of four elderly sisters and their relationship with each other. In the story, Dora van der Groen of the Oscar-winning ANTONIA’S LINE plays Pauline, an elderly, simple minded woman living with Martha, the eldest of Pauline’s three sisters, in a small town between Brussels and the seacoast. Martha loves Pauline and cares for her day in and day out. Pauline has a love for flowers and enjoys visiting her other sister, Paulette, played by Ann Petersen. Pauline idolizes her sister Paulette. Paulette owns a fabric store in town, but her grand passion is performing as the resident diva at the local opera house.
When Martha suddenly dies, everyone’s world is turned upside down. Neither Paulette nor the youngest sister, Cecile, who lives in Brussels with her French boyfriend, feel their lives can include the responsibility of taking care of Paulette, who hasn’t even learned to tie her own shoes.
Paulette and Cecile decide they want to put Pauline in a nursing home for mentally handicapped people. Martha dictates the last word from the grave, however. Her will stipulates that Paulette and Cecile can have a share of Martha’s worldly possessions, but only on the condition that one or both of them personally care for Pauline. Otherwise, all of Martha’s small fortune goes to Pauline. In the end, however, it is Pauline who decides with whom she wants to be. The only question is, will the sister she chooses accept her choice with resentment or love?
Dora van der Groen and Ann Petersen are fabulous in the title roles. Dora superbly displays the simple-minded admiration that Pauline has for Paulette, including Paulette’s singing career and Paulette’s wonderful flower garden. Pauline keeps taking pieces of Paulette’s rose-patterned wrapping paper and putting it into her photo album, which contains all sorts of flower photos and a newspaper notice about Paulette’s operetta career. Ann beautifully portrays the embarrassment, exasperation and, ultimately, the joy and love that Pauline’s simple mindedness brings to Paulette’s life. This is bittersweet because it is Pauline who proves to be Paulette’s most trustworthy (and perhaps only) friend, but it is through Pauline that Paulette begins to understand the happiness of taking care of one’s weaker family members. In other words, Paulette finally discovers, “I am indeed my sister’s keeper.”
God is not mentioned in PAULINE AND PAULETTE. Despite this lack of spiritual depth, PAULINE AND PAULETTE has a basically moral worldview. The movie is almost completely clean, except for three subtitled curse words that come from Cecile’s live-in boyfriend, a middle-aged Frenchman, Albert. Also, although it is clear that Cecile and Albert are living together unmarried, there are no sex scenes and no crude sexual dialogue. Thus, children are not likely to be corrupted by this movie, even though they are not likely to want to sit through it because the story moves slowly.
Besides the moral aspects to this movie, another important theme in PAULINE AND PAULETTE is the lack of communication between the characters. This becomes really hilarious when Cecile leaves Pauline with Albert in a restaurant for a moment. Albert cannot speak Belgian, so there is no communication whatsoever between Albert and Pauline while Cecile is gone. This frustrates Albert to no end. Later, Pauline tells Paulette that she thinks Albert is “mad,” as in crazy, because, to her, Albert speaks nothing but gibberish. Of course, throughout the rest of the movie, it is Pauline who is the one who fails to communicate with other people when she speaks, because she does not have the full mental capacity to do so sufficiently. This problem of communication disappears in the climactic scene of the movie, where Paulette just sits smiling on a bench as she basks in Pauline’s own simple joy while Pauline frolics along the boardwalk near Paulette’s new retirement apartment by the seaside.
MOVIEGUIDE® commends first-time writer/director Lieven Debrauwer for crafting such a delicate, quiet, insightful story. We look forward to seeing what he does with the rest of his career.
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