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Pauline and Paulette Movie Review: Pauline and Paulette

Starring: Dora van der Groen, Ann Petersen
Director: Lieven Debrauwer
Rated: PG
RunTime: 78 Minutes
Release Date: January 2002
Genres: Drama, Foreign

*Also starring: Rosemarie Bergmans, Idwig Stephane, Julienne De Bruyn, Nand Buyl

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

If "Pauline & Paulette" were an American film rather than a Belgian one using the Flemish language, its title might have been "I am Pauline." That level and level-headed country's entry into dramatizations of the mentally handicapped features two of Belgium's most celebrates performers, and what's more this is one of those rare pictures that deal with the lives of older people. (That means over 60, Americans, not 35.)

Filmmaker Lieven Debrauwer, who was born in the small Belgian town of Roeselare , seems to want his audience to realize that we can learn more from the lives of what we'd call developmentally disabled people than they can from us. While the film does not prove this, we see by the final scenes that the "normal" sister, the one who is taking care of the retarded individual, realizes what she is missing once she turns the former over to an institution.

The siblings are the handicapped Pauline (Dora van der Groen) and her gifted, ambitious sister Paulette (Ann Petersen). Paulette runs a dressmaking shop in a provincial town, takes pride in treating each customer like a valued friend, and ties a mean gift wrap around each item of clothing that she sells. She also takes part in the village operetta group as she has been doing for the past thirty years and is pretty much unconcerned about Pauline, who visits the shop regularly, is fond of Paulette, and doesn't make too much of a negative impact on the customers. When Pauline's caretaker and sister Martha (Julienne De Bruyn) dies suddenly, Paulette and her younger sister Cecile (Rosemarie Bergmans) learn from the will that they can divide the inheritance as long as at least one of the survivors takes care of Pauline.

While we're shown a fairly predictable conflict between Cecile and Paulette, both of whom are interested in the money provided by the will but neither wanting to take Martha's place as caretaker, our attention is focused principally on Pauline. While Pauline cannot speak a complete sentence, tie her shoelaces or cut her food, she can water flowers in Paulette's garden and go on errands to butcher shop armed with a list of meats to buy from the meanspirited shopkeeper (Camilia Blereau). There is isn't a heck of a lot of action in this small movie which could easily fit on a 26-inch TV, but the modest enterprise has hearts, flowers, and lot of music from " Waltz of the Flowers" of Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker." We can see that while Pauline has barely the understanding of a normal five year old she has no concept of death, emphasizing that Martha broke a cup when she fell down dead ("she's sleeping on the floor") she is friendly, smiles easily, and kind of grows on the people she's around. Some of the people, yes, but not Albert (Idwig Stephane), who is the live-in boyfriend of Cecile and being an intellectual has no tolerarance for the disabled, elderly woman who has come to live temporarily with them.

This is a real movie about real people taking care of each other, resenting each other's presence at times, and living their lives as best they can with whatever gifts they have been afforded. We in the audience do care about Pauline as long as she doesn't spend too much more time with us than the 78 minutes she has been given by Debrauwer.

Copyright 2002 Harvey Karten

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