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'Pauline & Paulette'

Family keeps watch on aging sister in Belgian drama

Friday, May 24, 2002

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

Anyone who has coped with aging relatives who cannot care for themselves will relate to "Pauline and Paulette," a Belgian film about four estranged sisters that makes its points quietly and in subtle colors.

'Pauline & Paulette'

RATING: PG for brief language; subtitled.

PLAYERS: Dora van der Groen, Ann Petersen, Rosemarie Bergmans.

DIRECTOR: Lieven Debrauwer.

WEB SITE: www.sonyclassics.com/



Pauline (Dora van der Groen) is an elderly woman with the mind of a child. She lives with her sister Martha (Julienne De Bruyn) in a cottage in a small town. Pauline is able to run small errands for Martha, who caters to her sister's every whim. Martha ties her shoes, spreads jam on her sandwich and lets Pauline water the flowers that she loves.

But Pauline is captivated most of all by Paulette (Ann Petersen), another sister who lives in town. Paulette owns a dress and fabric shop and is the diva of the town's annual operetta. She gets exasperated whenever Pauline comes banging at the window or intruding while she's serving a customer.

The crisis comes when Martha dies suddenly. Neither Paulette nor the fourth sister, Cecile (Rosemarie Bergmans), who lives in Brussels, wants the responsibility, but Martha's will leaves them no choice but to care for Pauline themselves. The results range from mixed to disastrous.

What happens in the end rings with gentle, bittersweet irony. For all of Pauline's mental deficiencies, her emotional constancy is as strong and unshakable as Gibraltar -- and that can't be shrugged off so easily.

Director and co-writer Lieven Debrauwer doesn't sentimentalize Pauline. Van der Groen makes her both mischievous and stubborn, evincing the genuine delight of a child when she succeeds at a task and the will of a tyrant when she wants or needs something done, no matter what else you may be doing at the time.

Debrauwer defines his characters through the use of color. Martha lives in a house that is brown inside and out -- solid but uninspiring. Cecile lives in a white apartment that seems as cold as her haughty French boyfriend (Idwig Stephane), who can barely tolerate Pauline (we know the feeling -- we can barely stand him).

Paulette's shop is dominated by reds and pinks and frills and porcelains, although she is hardly a dainty woman -- she is literally the fat lady who sings at the opera. Maybe those bright colors are what draw Pauline to her.

Near the end of this 78-minute film, Paulette learns why you should be careful what you wish for. Pauline, on the other hand, knows exactly what she wants. So does "Pauline and Paulette," now at the Regent Square Theater. It says no more than it came to say and leaves us to ponder whatever deeper virtues we may find.

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