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‘Tatie Danielle’ (NR)

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
May 24, 1991

If you can imagine a production of "Arsenic and Old Lace" with Phil Silvers as one of the aunts, then you pretty much get the gist of Etienne Chatiliez's "Tatie Danielle." This old bag (played by Tsilla Chelton) is an aunt with attitude, Auntie Maim, and better suited to "The Addams Family" than to any clan on your block.

The wrinkle here is that this dotty witch, who stomps merrily through petunia beds and sics her doggy on the mailman, is cantankerous and unlovable in a spiteful way that's supposed to be a comic reversal on the stereotypical apple-pie aunties, those lovable good aunts who pinch the living heck out of your cheeks and gush about how they used to know you when you were only "this big." But if Tatie Danielle pinches your cheek she's liable to take your head off with it. It may just be that she's the antichrist.

There are ample precursors to this kind of uncivil display; there's a little of Renoir's "Boudu Saved From Drowning" in it, as well as the spirit of "Problem Child" and "Home Alone" -- she's the "Problem Aunt." The real problem here, though, is that she's such a sour old pill that there's no way to warm up to her. She's one of the most thoroughly unlikable characters in movie history. Plus she's not nearly as funny as the filmmakers might have hoped, mostly because the gags are too much the same, and the people surrounding her -- most notably the family of relatives she lives with -- are as unremarkable as she is tiresome. But then I never laughed at Phil Silvers either.

"Tatie Danielle" is in French with English subtitles and is unrated.

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