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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Pauline & Paulette (2002)

"Listen, Pauline. You can't always get what you want."
- Paulette (Ann Petersen)

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: November 27, 2002

Stars: Dora van der Gruen, Ann Petersen
Other Stars: Julienne De Bruyn, Rosemarie Bergmans, Idwig Stephane
Director: Lieven Debrauwer

MPAA Rating: PG for brief language
Run Time: 01h:18m:07s
Release Date: August 13, 2002
UPC: 043396075986
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
C C-CB- B-

DVD Review

Many groups have reasonable complaints about their portrayal in the movies, but probably none more so than those with some sort of disability. Pauline & Paulette does nothing to dispel the worst stereotypes about those who face different sorts of challenges; it's a recent Belgian film with little originality or freshness, though it deserves some recognition for having women well into and past middle age as its central characters. But you know what's paved with those good intentions. It's all terribly maudlin and predictable—but hey, it's in Flemish!

Pauline (Dora van der Gruen) is one of the four LeClercq sisters; she, unlike her siblings, is mentally retarded, and Martha (Julienne De Bruyn), her kindest sister, looks after her, fixing her meals, tying her shoes, taking care of her in every conceivable way. Pauline loves Martha, but also maintains a special affection for Paulette (Ann Petersen), another sister, who runs a frilly little dress shop in the nearby town. Cécile (Rosemarie Bergmans), the fourth LeClercq, has long since escaped to the big city: Brussels, where she lives with her new French-speaking boyfriend, Albert (Idwig Stephane).

Sadly for Pauline and inconveniently for Paulette and Cécile, Martha suddenly drops dead on the kitchen floor. Who, then, will look after Pauline? The other two would be more than happy to send their disabled sister to an institution, but the terms of Martha's will are strict: if one of the sisters takes in Pauline, Martha's estate will be divided between the surviving LeClercqs, in thirds. If they won't care for Pauline, Cécile and Paulette will get nothing.

There are obvious similarities to Rain Man, Dominick and Eugene, What's Eating Gilbert Grape, and no shortage of other films and movies of the week that have mentally challenged characters at their centers. Actors love this stuff, and they frequently pick up awards for playing these sorts of roles; but more often than not they are occasions for excessive emoting, without revealing much if anything about the human heart. Pauline is patronized not only by her sisters, but also by the filmmakers—she's in touch with her inner child, we're expected to believe, and can help everyone around her learn a li'l something about life.

Watching this feels like a cheap attempt at some sort of emotional porn. If your story isn't very good and you introduce a character with some sort of disability, you inoculate yourself from a certain amount of criticism—How could you possibly be so insensitive to the disabled?—but hiding behind that tired political stance doesn't really address the principal problem, which is that the movie itself just isn't very good.

It's hard not to get clinical about Pauline's future, while watching her mistreatment at the hands of her two surviving sisters. You can't help but think, if Paulette and Cécile so clearly don't want her around, that she might not be better off in an institution, and in fact the one that she's taken to see seems entirely humane. (Life there would certainly be preferable to being yelled at by family all day and night.) And while dear departed Martha was clearly something of a martyr to Pauline's disability, it's sort of shocking that a woman of this age, even with her limited capacity, cannot tie her own shoes or spread jam on her own toast.

But this isn't a psychological file or case study, it's a movie; and it's really a rather sorry one. The story is all pretty by the numbers, and it's lacking entirely in surprises—you'll find yourself miles ahead of the characters in knowing what precisely is going to happen, and in what obvious manner; the conclusion is unconvincing and arbitrary; and in fact the set-up doesn't make a whole lot of sense, given that neither Paulette nor Cécile seem in dire need of Martha's money, and the entire estate doesn't seem as if it's a life-changing fortune. Even the filmmakers can't really sustain their own earnestness—without the credit sequences, the story runs barely an hour and fifteen minutes, making it feel more like a Very Special Episode of a mediocre television show rather than a heartfelt, honest and candid motion picture.

Rating for Style: C
Rating for Substance: C-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Much of the movie was shot in 16 mm, and hence there's much weakness in the transfer—lots of grain is evident, and some of the pains taken with the production design are lost, given the weakness of the palette. A couple of brief sequences were shot in 35mm, and of course they look much, much better—so much so that they seem entirely out of place, and can throw you entirely out of the narrative.

Image Transfer Grade: C


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Much more attention was lavished on the audio than the video, and the 5.1 mix is a strong one. Some of the musical scoring overwhelms the story, though, especially the reliance on The Nutcracker Suite. Also, some hissing and interference is present, no doubt from the 16 mm original.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Color of Paradise, Not One Less, The House of Mirth
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Lieven Debrauwer
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: The director provides a thorough English-language commentary, and he's largely enchanted by his own movie. If you don't care for the feature—and I cannot say that I do—hearing him crow about his on-set chemistry isn't especially impressive. He has great respect for his actors, though, which is always nice to hear.

The English subtitles are legible, though they contain occasional grammatical problems: e.g., "Albert already informed about it." A handful of trailers round out the package of extras.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

This is a pretty poor attempt at making a sort of Rain Woman, and some good acting can't make up for the gloppy story and script.


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