“I feel like I’m changing. At my age, that’s scary.”
In her last film before passing away, Bernadette Lafont (The Mother and The Whore, 1973) proves her legacy as an actress that can easily run a one-woman show. In Paulette (2012), the French megastar of the French New Wave (La Nouvelle Vague) takes on the role of an unconventional 70-year-old granny. Director Jérôme Enrico (Cerise, 2015) attempts to address the racist stereotypes of contemporary society through the comedic transformation of a venom-spitting character into an open-hearted individual that is willing to risk it all for the ones she loves.
Paulette (Bernadette Lafont) is not your average cranky grandma next door. Ever since she lost her husband and their brasserie, she has been stuck in a state of denial, scraping by on a meager pension and resorting to abominable racism. Living in a typical suburban neighbourhood of Paris, she is disinterested in life, but feisty enough to hate all the immigrants around her. Aside from a few friends, she has a strained relationship with her daughter Agnés (Axelle Laffont) because of her marriage to a black cop called Ousmane (Jean-Baptiste Anoumon), and is even cruel to her grandson Léo (Ismaël Dramé) as a result of this union. However, when she witnesses a drug deal gone wrong, she is given another chance at life. It will revive both her confidence and her finances, but is it all worth the price?
Blending politically incorrect humour with social scrutiny on the backdrop of a drug dealing community creates certain highlights, but the general feeling one gets while watching the film is that it chooses not to stray outside its comfort zone. The characters follow a strict set rules that forces the film’s plot to develop in a straightforward manner, but it also stagnates the exploration of its arc, making it a rather impassive experience. Despite the solid acting and the convincing cast, the dialogue proves a bit wobbly at times, missing out on the chance to transform repeated swearwords into memorable one-liners.
In the same way that Philippe de Chauveron’s Serial (Bad) Weddings (2014) deals with xenophobia and a change of heart towards the foreign elements within the French society, Enrico opts for a protagonist confused about the mechanics of moral judgement. By placing her in the heart of a few ridiculous situations, he achieves his nice, polished end result. Drifting from comedy to melodrama and back again makes the film easy to watch, but without real social commentary, it falls flat.
The story of the granny dealing marijuana is based on a real life event narrated to the director by one of his students, Bianca Olsen, who contributed to the script along with two other students. Despite its blunt optimism amidst the poverty, unemployment, and discrimination in the less-developed Parisian suburbs, the concept of an old person abandoning her racist, spiteful ways is quite contrary to reality. Perhaps this is why the film is so appealing on a primary level – it sheds a ray of hope on the social dynamics of intolerance that have reduced Europe to a turbulent hub of multifaceted discrimination.
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