Film review: Tatie Danielle

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 26 1992 12:00 a.m. MST

"Tatie Danielle" is an odd film, and not an easy one to review. Is it a dark comedy, a stark tragedy, an exploration of a sick mind . . . ?

Yes, all of this, in fact, leaving the audience in the end with an uneasy feeling and perhaps some puzzlement as to what it all means.

The title character, Auntie Danielle (Tsilla Chelton), is a real monster, an aged woman who, as the film opens, spends most of her time terrorizing the equally aged maid Odile who lives with her and bows to her every wish.

Danielle makes snippy comments, bangs on the wall with her cane at 3 a.m. because she wants a drink of water and calmly tramples the flowers Odile plants in the garden. She also encourages the frail Odile to climb a ladder and clean the chandelier. (At one point, Odile says she will die before Danielle. Danielle replies, "I hope so.")

Then, when her only family comes to visit — her nephew and his wife and children — she feigns weakness and claims Odile has been trying to steal her money.

Eventually, Danielle moves to Paris to live with her relatives and slowly, cleverly drives them to distraction. She kicks the dog, softly complains about the food and utters contemptuous remarks toward any person or any action that is good or sweet.

But when the family goes off on a long-planned three-week vacation and she is left in the care of a feisty young woman, Danielle meets her match. The young woman takes no guff and that initially leads to more than a few clashing moments. Eventually they develop an uneasy alliance, but later their relationship goes sour, resulting in near tragedy.

There are some very funny, albeit dark moments here, but there are also as many that may make the audience simply uncomfortable. That's obviously the filmmaker's intent, though the film's meaning is less clear.

The performances are excellent, with special kudos to Chelton, whose Danielle is utterly believable and more than a little frightening. That we can laugh at her actions while still feeling a chill is a tribute to her talent.

"Tatie Danielle" is not rated but would doubtless be in R-rated territory for a surprisingly graphic sex scene. There is also some violence and profanity.