Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Paulette: Beats Being a Greeter at Walmart
is like the Archie Bunker of Paris. Don’t give her your hipster-Brooklyn
complaints about gentrification, because she does not want to hear them. She has
seen the exact opposite happen in her outer Parisian neighborhood. As more and
more immigrants moved in, her once quaint patisserie went under, ultimately
causing her beloved husband to drink himself to death. The resentful old woman
has trouble making ends meet, until she finds her niche in the narcotics economy
booming around her in Jérôme Enrico’s Paulette
opens this Friday in New York.
son-in-law Ousmane (or Osama as she calls him) and her parish priest are of
African descent, but that does not stop her from making the rudest racist
remarks in their presence. She is even frosty to her grandson Leo, for the same
reason. She is also broke, so she gleans some information from Ousmane and
approaches Vito, the drug captain for her housing project for work. She starts
out as a street pusher, but quickly develops a loyal clientele who feel more
comfortable buying from her than a young unsavory gangster. However, she really
hits her stride when she starts whipping up hash baked goods. Business is so
brisk she soon recruits her card playing cronies. Of course, she will not be
able to keep her drug business on cruise control indefinitely.
merely seeing a French granny pushing dope holds sufficient novelty for you
than Paulette will not disappoint.
However, films like Pushing the Elephant and
the Fantasia-selected Ryuchi and His Seven Henchmen are far superior films about senior citizens going (or
staying) gangster. Hmm, do you suppose Paulette might warm to little Leo once
she starts mixing with more diverse associates? Frankly, the film works best
when it shows the unreconstructed Paulette venting her spleen. At least, these darkly
comic scenes have an edge and some integrity. Once lessons start to be learned,
the film simply craters into sentimentality and shtick.
late great Bernadette Lafont was a Nouvelle Vague veteran, probably best known
for her work with Claude Chabrol. This probably is not the film to remember her
by, but it still shows flashes of her greatness, especially in her early,
flintier scenes. It is sort of mind-blowing to see Carmen Maura, the frazzled Pepa
in Women on the Verge of a Nervous
Breakdown getting cast as frumpy seniors, but Enrico and his battery of
co-screenwriters (Laurie Aubanel, Bianca Olsen, and Cyril Rambour) could have
at least given her a more sharply defined character. Unfortunately, except for
Lafont, everyone is merely playing types.
Despite all the safe and easy choices Enrico
makes, there is still some substance to its portrait of a woman embittered but
not defeated by life in today’s Paris, which is nicely served by Michel Ochowiak’s
peppy yet bittersweet score. Frustratingly, the film is mostly harmless, when
it could have been lethally cutting. Okay for patrons of French cinema looking
for something non-threatening, Paulette opens
this Friday (8/14) in New York at the Paris Theater.
Labels: Bernadette Lafont, French Cinema