Jerome Enrico’s comedy Paulette”, set in the rough Banlieues (projects) around Paris stars Iconic Nouvelle Vague actress Berndadette Lafont, who sadly passed away a year after “Paulette” became a French Box office success. She debuted in Chabrol’s “Le Beau Serge” (1958), considered the movie that launched the French New Wave. Chabrol’s muse, she appeared in “Leda” (1959), his masterful “Les Bonnes Femmes”(1960, and “Wise Guys (1961). Nine films in all. Other films of note were Nelly Kaplan’s “A Very Curious Girl” (1969), Truffaut’s underrated black comedy “A Gorgeous Girl Like Me” (1972) and Jean Eustache’s “The Mother and the Whore” (1973).
An opening montage shows Paulette’s glory years, her wedding to beloved husband Frances, Her successful Parisian restaurant, happy family life, the enormous check she won in a national Quiche and Tarte bake-off. Now she’s a zenophobic muttering rascist, who’s forced to scavenge for spoiled produce in the stret markets to survive on her measly pension. She plays cards regularly with three other gals Maria (Carmen Maura), Lucienne (Dominique Lavanant) and gabby Renée (Françoise Bertin) known as Alzheimers, all neighbors in the Block Victor Hugo. Widower Mr. Walter (André Penvern) tries to court her to no avail.
Bitter Paulette is estranged from her daughter Agnès (Axelle Laffont) since she married a black cop Ousmane (Jean-Baptiste Anoumon), and reluctantly minds her mixed race grandson Leo (Ismaël Dramé) but won’t let him call her grandma.
“Paulette” feels like a Gallic mix of “Saving Grace”, “Golden Girls” and “Weeds.” Enrico’s fairy tale avoids any dark reality. Not so Lefont, who digs into her bitter racism for all its worth. Luckily her son in law and grandson put up with her colonial era racism, seemingly waiting around for her to thaw, which of course, she does by the end.
In fact Osmane asks her to help catch th local dealers plaguing the projects
Paulette talks to the picture of her dead husband Francis, the drunk who lost their restaurant and drank himself into a early grave. Rather than blame her husband fro the loss of her restaurant, she blames the ‘Chinks’ who now run it.
A good Catholic, she makes confession with African priest Pere Baptiste, unashamed to complain about chinks, jigaboos and darkies.
When the cops arrest local dealer Jérémy (Mathias Melloul), she starts paying attention
She witnesses a drug deal in the neighborhood and is amazed at the profits. The cops arrest the man dealer x
When the bailiff seizures her possession for unpaid loans and rent, the canny business woman has a plan.
She marches over to Mr.Vito’s apartment and demands Jérémy ‘s old job, met with gang derision, But when she returns a stash dropped during a police chase, she convinces Vito ((Paco Boublard),) that she’s serious. he offers her a trial 10% split and before long she’s outselling all the young dealers winning confidence form older clients and making money hand over fist.
No-one suspects the doughty old lady. even son in law Osmane carries her drug filled bags , beating off the police drug dogs and laughing when she tells him her bags are full of drugs.
Canny Paulette quickly outstrips the lazy local kids.
Losing their business, they mug her, although one, Indriss, becomes her friend.
Rubbed, she’s short Vito’s money. She tries melting the pot and accidently, unsuspecting Leo comes up with the hash baking. Soon her space cakes and Afghan cookies are the toast of the neighborhood.
Soon Paulette’s juggling dealers, clients, Russian mafia police and nosy girlfriends as she builds up enough business to pay her debts and live in relative luxury.
Soon Vito’s big boss Taras (Miglen Mirtchev) turns to her to bring the business out of the ghetto.
He sees her baking as a way to turn school kids into early addicts.It’s an offer she can’t refuse, but refuse she does. So Vito snatched Leo.
A comic granny raid on the gang’s flat, arrests , protests in the street (“Free Paulette”) and before you can say suspended sentence, the granny gang and Mr. Walter have opened a French Space Cake bake shop in Amsterdam. Opens Laemmle Music Hall 3 Sep 11th