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Savant PAL Region 2 Guest Reviews:

Tatie Danielle

Separate releases reviewed by Lee Broughton

This month England's C'Est La Vie present two films by the French director Étienne Chatiliez. A less than prolific director, Chatiliez has a talent for producing engaging films which gently poke fun at the French middle classes. These quirky, modern day, Paris-based fables about familial relationships are brought to life via believable characters, expressive and well-placed soundtrack music and good cinematography and direction. In each film coddled and untroubled members of the French middle class suddenly find themselves receiving a series of rude awakenings courtesy of one of their own kind, who also happens to be related to them. Tatie Danielle is a darkly comic piece about a malicious pensioner and the film is actually quite disturbing in places. Tanguy is much lighter in tone, detailing the trials and tribulations of a grown up man who doesn't want to leave the comfort his parents' home: it's a real gem of a film.

Tatie Danielle
C'Est La Vie
1990 / Colour / 1.66:1 flat letterbox / 107 m.
Starring Tsilla Chelton, Catherine Jacob, Isabelle Nanty, Neige Dolsky, Eric Prat, Laurence Février, Virginie Pradal, Mathieu Foulon, Gary Ledoux, André Wilms
Cinematography Philippe Welt
Production Designer Geoffroy Larcher
Film Editor Catherine Renault
Original Music Gabriel Yared
Written by Florence Quentin and Étienne Chatiliez
Produced by Charles Gassot
Directed by Étienne Chatiliez


Danielle (Tsilla Chelton) is an embittered elderly widow who literally nags and works her equally elderly companion-cum-housekeeper Odile (Neige Dolsky) to death. Danielle finds new targets for her extremely selfish, hurtful and resolutely anti-social behaviour when arrangements are made for her to move in with her great nephew Jean-Pierre (Eric Prat) and his family. When the family take a well earned holiday abroad, a live-in carer called Sandrine (Isabelle Nanty) is employed to look after Danielle. Sandrine is just as cynical, unsympathetic and uncaring as Danielle and their common world-view results in the pair striking up a happy friendship of sorts. However, the two malcontents soon fall out and a furious Danielle effects an extremely petulant act of revenge.

Danielle's affectations of superiority, her desire to continually dominate Odile, her officer-class husband and her constant need to delude herself that everybody is after her money and her suburban home cast her as a typical old-school European bourgeois. She initially appears to be just another one of those cantankerous pensioners who take delight in stomping on nicely cultivated flower beds, insulting beggars and setting their dogs on unsuspecting postmen but her malicious activities move far beyond these boundaries. Her companion Odile is a sweet old girl and it's the particularly cruel and vicious ways that Danielle expresses her unwarranted contempt for Odile that first reveal just how disturbed and emotionally cold Danielle really is. When Odile dies after twenty six years of loyal servitude Danielle doesn't even shed a tear: she's too busy plotting how she can swing a permanent move to her great nephew's home in Paris. Selling her house and splitting the proceeds between Jean-Pierre and his sister Jeanne (Laurence Février) is the plan of action that she puts into effect.

Danielle's great nephew's Parisian family unit is perhaps more representative of the contemporary European petite-bourgeoisie in its outlook. While middle-aged Jean-Pierre and his wife Catherine (Catherine Jacob) will find a use for Danielle's money, we get the impression that they're not desperate for it and would probably be just as happy without it. They're certainly not grasping or on the make: they want Danielle to get value for her money and to be happy living with them. Catherine in particular goes out of her way to please Danielle but everything she does gets thrown back in her face in a decidedly rude manner. Danielle just isn't happy unless she's upsetting or insulting somebody.

Jean-Pierre and Catherine are a likeable couple with a happy family life and they go to great pains to keep the romance in their lives fresh. They're good people but they're living in a fantasy world of their own making where they perceive themselves to still be hip and relevant. Young at heart, they're prone to making theatrical gestures when expressing their love for each other, a little like Coronation Street's Reg and Maureen Holdsworth used to. There's a supremely funny scene present where Danielle looks into the couple's bedroom while they're making love and is alarmed to hear Jean-Pierre half-heartedly and incongruously spouting the kind of nasty talk learned from the rougher sex scenes found in contemporary Hollywood films. There's another similarly funny scene where Jean-Pierre is seen dancing with wild abandon in Greece while his fellow holiday makers laud him for his enthusiastic but hilariously over-the-top efforts. The couple's teenage son seems to be openly gay but they don't appear to have noticed. But the impression given is that when they do eventually notice it won't be a particularly big deal for them.

Jeanne's long-term but insecure relationship with a man fifteen years younger than herself makes her an easy target for Danielle, who is blunter than ever when talking to her. Jeanne is supposed to look after Danielle while the others go on holiday but she winds up needing a holiday herself when her boyfriend dumps her after finding out that she's pregnant. These people are really nice folk who never see the bad in anybody and that makes Danielle's treatment of them all the more awful. They certainly win our sympathy: by the time Danielle's done with them they're nervous wrecks who are lucky not to be facing serious legal proceedings. Don't get the impression that Danielle is just some miserable old bat who happens to be double-grouchy: her actions are carefully planned and are downright malicious, leaving people open to acute embarrassment, physical harm and severe emotional trauma. Thankfully, Jean-Pierre and company manage to survive their encounter with Danielle. Just.

This is a very unusual but completely engrossing and thought-provoking film. While some of its content is played quite seriously, with some sections being both disturbing and upsetting, I guess the film is best described as a black comedy of sorts. And its slightly quirky styling and it's well matched and expressive soundtrack music (by Gabriel Yared) prevent us from reading the film as a completely 'realist' endeavour. Director Étienne Chatiliez keeps things moving at a lively pace, employing some noticeably good cinematography and believable character development. Every now and again Chatiliez almost prompts feelings of pity for Danielle but such feelings are quickly dismissed when we see her next diabolically perverse action. While the film isn't quite as stylish or as mannered as something that Jean-Pierre Jeunet might concoct it does present a decidedly skewed look at contemporary French living.

The acting here is really excellent despite there only being one truly familiar face in the cast, Amelie's Isabelle Nanty. If Klaus Kinski and Julie Christie had ever married onscreen and had a daughter, Nanty would have been perfect for the part. Extreme polar opposites of human nature and outlook are vividly brought to life here but Chatiliez and his actors never resort to peddling cheap or obvious caricatures. Another refreshing element of this film is Chatiliez's use of 'normal' and average looking actors: there's a real variety of 'real' faces and body shapes on display here. Even the wannabe glamorous customers who frequent the beauty salon where Catherine works are less than perfect in their appearance while the ever present photograph of Danielle's long-deceased husband features a decidedly gonzoid looking fellow.

Tatie Danielle is presented flat but the film's picture remains sharp. The colour schemes employed in this film are quite interesting and they are nicely reproduced. And there is very little in the way of print damage present here. This disc features the film's original French soundtrack supported by optional English subtitles and the sound quality is excellent.

C'Est La Vie
2001 / Colour / 1.85:1 anamorphic 16:9 / 105 m.
Starring Sabine Azéma, André Dussollier, Eric Berger, Hélène Duc, Aurore Clément, Jean-Paul Rouve, André Wilms, Richard Guedj, Roger Van Hool, Nathalie Krebs
Cinematography Philippe Welt
Production Designer Stéphane Makedonsky
Film Editor Catherine Renault
Original Music Pascal Andreacchio
Written by Laurent Chouchan and Étienne Chatiliez from an idea by Yolande Zauberman
Produced by Charles Gassot
Directed by Étienne Chatiliez


Tanguy Guetz (Eric Berger) is twenty eight years old, still a student and still living at home, much to his parents' (Sabine Azéma and André Dussollier) annoyance. He's a nice enough guy but he's messy around the house, brings girls home at all hours, gatecrashes his parents' parties and sees more of their friends than they do. Exasperated, they decide to make life at home uncomfortable for Tanguy in the hope that he will take it upon himself to move out.

Tanguy is a perpetual student. He's already got a couple of degrees under his belt and now he's almost completed a PhD in 'Subjectivity in Ancient China'. When he decides to put off submitting his PhD in favour of another eighteen months worth of research it's the last straw for his parents. The ongoing situation has seen his mother reduced to seeing a psychiatrist and his father receiving constant criticism from Tanguy's grandmother (Hélène Duc). But when the couple start their dirty tricks campaign - throwing his best shirts out, shrinking his favourite jumpers in the wash, denying him the use of their cars, forcing him to work in his bedroom, frightening his girlfriends off and making as much noise as they can while he's studying - Tanguy irritates them further by simply responding with a slice of the Eastern philosophy that he knows so well: "he who needs little has everything".

Having smelly food hidden in his bedroom, sharp screws left sticking out of his bathroom floor and being continually woken up in the middle of the night does start having an effect on Tanguy and he almost agrees to move in with his long-term girlfriend. His parents are looking forward to him spending a week in Beijing so much that when Tanguy's flight is cancelled his father readily stumps up 34,612 francs in order to secure him a one-way, first class ticket on another flight. While he's away his parents have a dreamy week together - represented by a well executed montage of their activities that is nicely set to the Lovin' Spoonful's Daydream - but they become distraught when they mistakenly assume that Tanguy has come to harm while abroad. As it turns out, they're overjoyed to have him back but the same old problems soon start rearing their heads and Tanguy's parents step up their dirty tricks campaign. This time poor old Tanguy winds up both perplexed and deeply dejected by their actions.

First things first: this film is kind of sweet, kind of charming and extremely funny. It's been a long time since a film delivered the kind of laugh out loud laughs that Tanguy prompted from me. The basic premise of the film shouldn't really be that funny. Tanguy's parents love him but their desire to see him fly from the family nest is fast turning their love into hate and it's not always pleasant seeing these parents act the way they do towards their offspring. By the same token, just because his parents can afford to support him Tanguy shouldn't take that support for granted. But it's not like sponging off them is his intended objective. In fact he doesn't really realize that his domestic arrangements could be seen as sponging: he simply loves his parents dearly and enjoys the closeness that the convenience of living with them perpetuates. Living well for free is just a fortuitous bonus to him. And, as they have always been loving, supportive and lenient towards him, he can't conceive that they might be taking offence to some of his activities. Tanguy's love for his parents, and their eventual realisation of their love for him, is really very touching and moving. The film's denouement, which takes place amongst some of China's most famous tourists attractions, is delightfully executed and positively uplifting.

As with Tatie Danielle, Chatiliez's slightly quirky style and the film's wonderfully buoyant, Eastern inflected soundtrack music (by Pascal Andreacchio) prevent us from reading the film as a completely 'realist' text. But while the film is a comedy its characters are extremely well drawn and their varied onscreen activities are thoroughly involving. Chatiliez makes great use of long takes that are shot on highly mobile hand-held cameras or steadicams and their fluid movements and curved trajectories weave right in amongst the Guetz family and their friends, positioning the viewer in a really up close and personal position. And this film is more overtly stylish than Tatie Danielle: Chatiliez is in a particularly confident mood here.

A prologue which details Tanguy's birth represents an interesting reconstruction of early 1970s France: all modernist furniture and post-Psychedelic colours. French living at the turn of the new millennium is presented, as with Tatie Danielle, via a slightly skewed take on the lives of the petite-bourgeois citizens of Paris. And again the petite-bourgeoisie, while shown in a quite thoughtful light, do come in for some light criticism and mockery. Tanguy's old-style bourgeois grandmother blithely expresses her astonishment that Tanguy's father hasn't simply bought his son a new apartment to live in but Tanguy's father doesn't want his son to be just another rich kid. He wants Tanguy to learn how to pay his own way, etc. British and American comedies that take middle class living as their central theme tend to be boring, self-celebratory and slyly ideological affairs which often feature uninteresting and unintentionally loathsome characters. Luckily for us, Chatiliez has the ability to observe and critique the peculiar nuances that he associates with the French petite-bourgeoisie while simultaneously constructing believable but likeable characters.

Tanguy is an anamorphic presentation and the disc's picture quality is excellent. The external shoots in and around Paris and various locations in China look great. The disc features the film's original French soundtrack supported by optional English subtitles and the sound is excellent.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Tatie Danielle rates:
Movie: Good ++
Video: Very Good ++
Sound: Excellent -
Supplements: booklet, image gallery, biographies for Étienne Chatiliez, Tsilla Chelton, Catherine Jacob & Isabelle Nanty and a trailer for Tanguy

Tanguy rates:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: booklet, image gallery, biographies for Étienne Chatiliez, Sabine Azéma, André Dussollier & Eric Berger and two trailers

Packaging: Separate releases in Keep case
Reviewed: November 30, 2004

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Text © Copyright 2007 Lee Broughton
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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