Auntie Danielle (Tsilla Chelton) is an eighty-two-year-old widow who never remarried after her husband died on Armistice Day, though she keeps his portrait hanging on the wall and talks to it regularly. But do not go thinking she is simply an eccentric old dear, for she is a toxic personality who is never happier than when she is belittling someone or even reducing them to tears: the ultimate accolade for her. She lives with her equally elderly friend Odile (Neige Dolsky) who waits on Danielle hand and foot, never receiving a word of praise, only criticism, and her companion does her best to make her life a misery while convincing her that it's her fault Danielle treats her so. She does have relatives, yet they only visit from Paris occasionally - but then, tragedy strikes.
Tragedy for Odile, at least, though she is little mourned, especially by the spiteful old lady she spent her final years with. At the time, Tatie Danielle was lauded for its defiantly anti-Hollywood approach to little old ladies, they were not twinkly founts of wisdom and kindliness, for this basically set out the theme that if you were an awful person throughout your life, why would that change once you reached your autumn years? Our vile anti-heroine certainly has not changed her tune, and whenever anyone is unlucky enough to enter her orbit they find themselves the worse for wear thanks to her keen sense of psychological warfare that does nobody any good, and you're not sure it's benefiting her either.
The trick she used was that assumption her little old lady status equally sweetness and demanded respect: respect is the last thing Danielle should command, she is a poisonous presence who gets away with murder (maybe not literally, but you have to wonder about Odile, forced to clean the chandelier and falling off the ladder as a result). Once that happens, Danielle's nephew Jean-Pierre (Eric Prat) volunteers to take her in, falling for her bullshit about how the deceased pal was only after her money and used to abuse her in insidious ways, when that is precisely what the auntie has been up to herself. She is not acting this way out of senility, however, she is well aware of how to push people's buttons.
Even to the extent of playing the sympathy card so that she can get away with her bullying for as long as possible and when Jean-Pierre's wife Catherine (Catherine Jacob) begins to suspect Danielle may not be as benevolent as she paints herself as, there's nothing she can do to counter her effects since any attempt to put the old witch in her place makes Catherine look very bad indeed. This culminated in a finale that saw Danielle make national news (and garner national sympathy, utterly misplaced) when someone important has enough of her and she goes all out in a campaign of attack on those who have been trying to look after her, or tolerate her anyway, and receiving nothing but insults and sly remarks in return. But who was this person who was supposed to be taking care of her?
She is Sandrine (Isabelle Nanty), the housekeeper Danielle's relatives hired to see to her needs while they go on holiday to Greece for a few weeks. Finally, someone who will stand up to her, though the slap she inflicts on Danielle after she stages a dirty protest in the toilet remains a shocking moment as you may think it was only a matter of time before someone retaliated, but this seems a step too far. Nevertheless, it does the trick and a mutual respect develops between the women as Sandrine is not exactly well behaved herself, from bringing back an American tourist to the apartment to have her wicked way with him, to what she and her charge do to the hated pet dog. You needed a pretty high tolerance of pitch black humour to find much to laugh at here: a typical scene sees auntie interrupt Catherine's posh dinner party by gatecrashing it, turning the television up too loud, meekly making it seem as if she is being neglected, and pissing herself in front of the guests. Yet writer Florence Quentin and director Étienne Chatiliez exhibited a certain respect for their ghastly protagonist's chutzpah; you may find that hard to take too.