Directed by: Étienne Chatiliez
Written by: Florence Quentin
Featuring: Tsille Chelton, Isabelle Nanty, Catherine Jacob, Eric Prat, Laurence Février, Neige Dolsky, Mathieu Foulon, Karin Viard, Gary Ledoux
Tatie (Auntie) Danielle, plays up on her age and supposedly poor health, cleverly disguising her sharp mind, pitch black heart and able body. She lives with an extremely loyal housekeeper who waits on her hand and foot. The emotional blackmail of the housekeeper eventually leads to her death and Danielle has to move in with her great-nephew and his family. Now in Paris she plans to keep on the same tack.
Tatie Danielle is an interesting film, having no discernible stars works to its advantage proving a point I have made many times over the years, we all love to see a charismatic star taking us on a story but sometimes the opposite works. With Taite Danielle this is the case. With a list of unknown French actors – at the time – there is no distractions, the performance are as good as established stars and the ‘whole’ is strong. Tsilla Chelton gives perfect show as the irascible and unpleasant Danielle with a young and relatively ‘unknown’ Isabelle Nanty showing her acting chops as her eventual foil.
The story presented here could easily have been a set of interlinking scenes of relentless unpleasantness with Chelton deliriously getting away with every over and over again. In fact, a recipe for eventual boredom. It is to Etienne Chatiliez’s credit that laughs are eked out from some frankly horrible situations. There is more than a passing nod to social satire and surprisingly tender and credible back story to a malicious and seeming irredeemable character. Admittedly you have to search for the ‘tender’ and I appreciate some will never find or see it but it is subtly weaved into the strands of the tale.
Building up tension as good as any serious thriller the viewer can be forgiven for thinking perhaps Tatie Danielle will fizzle out but instead, we take a least a slight left bend in the road, if not a turn. A tragedy spoken of only once is the driver for a woman who lost her only love and thereby wants no love in her world, deliberately driving it out as much as he can, using cruelty, subterfuge and disdain. Nothing you can really like unless you like treating people badly as a hobby – I am fairly sure some people do.
I am not subtle or educated enough about French culture or family dynamics but it seems that Chatiliez and scriptwriter Florence Quentin taking digs at the dynamic of the middle-class French family and even I did not fully understand it I did appreciate the humour in the situations. I did notice nearly everyone in the family is called Jean and as much as they behave kindly towards Danielle underneath they can be as crass and unthinking as her, if not deliberately.
Taite Danielle is by no means perfect and the ending seems a bit rushed and lakes the sharper edge of the early acts but overall this is black, black, mean-spirted comedy that has more heart than it is letting on, much like Tatie Danielle herself.