Pauline et Paulette

on September 07, 2001 by Barbara Goslawski
   "Pauline et Paulette" is a charming yet poignant tale of the irrevocable ties that bind. It tells the story of four elderly sisters and the family crisis that arises around the care of the childlike Pauline. Writer/director Lieven Debrauwer thankfully prevents the film from descending into mere domestic melodrama, skillfully lacing his narrative with glimpses into Pauline's unique worldview.

   The crisis begins when Martha, who has been taking care of Pauline, passes away. Her will states that one of the other two sisters must take care of Pauline, or both lose any claims to her estate. Paulette, an amateur opera singer and shop owner, and Cécile, who has just embarked on a new love affair, reluctantly work out a system to share the burden of dealing with their sister.

   Pauline has basic needs and is unnervingly straightforward when she wants them met. Often in the film, this leads to comic misunderstandings and misadventures, and results in no end of trouble when she lives with Paulette, the person she wants to be with most. Even when Martha was alive, Pauline would constantly wander over to Paulette's shop, despite Martha's stern warnings and Paulette's almost cruel dismissals. Nothing will stop her in her stubborn quest to live with her favorite person--not even the distance between Brussels, where she has gone to live with Cécile, and the small town where Paulette remains.

   Initially treated as a burden, Pauline eventually prevails through her endearing innocence and amiability. It is Pauline's character that creates the film's irrepressible appeal. Her pleasures are refreshingly simple--she loves to care for flowers and collect their pictures. It is in these scenes that we are privy to Pauline's wondrous vision of life--an important reminder of the joys in the most basic of elements, and one that raises the film above a quotidian account of bickering families.    Starring Dora Van Der Groen, Ann Peterson, Rosemarie Bergmans and Idwig Stéphane. Directed by Lieven Debrauwer. Written by Lieven Debrauwer and Jacques Boon. Produced by Dominique Janne. A Sony Pictures Classics release. Comedy/Drama. Rated PG for brief language. Running time: 78 min. Opens 12/28.

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