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Pauline and Paulette

Halle Berry, Schmalle Berry — some of the best acting in 2001 was done by a seventy-something woman named Dora van der Groen. The veteran Belgian actress is touching and utterly convincing in Pauline and Paulette as Pauline Declerq, a mentally challenged senior citizen who functions at roughly the same speed as a four-year-old. Warm-hearted and good-natured, Pauline goes through life watering flowers, running errands for her sister/caretaker, Martha (Julienne De Bruyn), and following her other sister — fussy lingerie shop owner Paulette (Ann Petersen, a popular Belgian soap star) — around like a puppy dog. Much to Paulette's dismay, Pauline idolizes her, star-struck by Paulette's colorful shop and her "glamorous" life as the diva of a local operetta company. However, Paulette is forced to deal with her sister's adoration first-hand when Martha dies unexpectedly; saddled with Pauline by default, Paulette eventually learns to appreciate how special her sister really is. (Of course, that's not until Pauline is first sent to live with a fourth sister in Brussels and then institutionalized, but you've gotta have a plot...) Pauline and Paulette is a sweet, sentimental story told in a loving, amused fashion — director Lieven Debrauwer (making his feature debut) recognizes that people like Pauline can simultaneously inspire affection, sympathy, and, quite often, frustration. By showing those honest reactions and encouraging van der Groen to play Pauline as a guileless, straightforward person — she's never a pathetic character, just a little girl trapped in an old woman's body — Debrauwer spares the film from lapsing into condescension or stereotype. Yes, the slight story is ultimately predictable, and yes the art direction is about as subtle as the way the mentally handicapped were portrayed in K-Pax. But in creating a vehicle in which van der Groen and Petersen could show off their skill, Debrauwer has done film fans the world over a favor. Columbia TriStar's DVD release of Pauline and Paulette offers a beautiful anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) — all of the reds and pinks in Paulette's shop practically glow, even on the small screen. Meanwhile, the Flemish Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is crisp and clear (English subtitles are available). Extras include four trailers (for Pauline and Paulette and other Columbia titles) and a commentary track by Debrauwer. He tends to focus a little too much on production minutiae (he tells a long story about the problematic dimensions of a roll of wrapping paper, for instance), and at times he sounds as though he's being prompted to talk about particular topics, but his enthusiasm for the film is unmistakable. Keep-case.
—Betsy Bozdech

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