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Review: My French Aunt Gazeuse (1996)

My French Aunt Gazeuse (1996)

Directed by: Ben Sombogaart, Joram Lürsen | 325 minutes | drama, comedy, family | Actors: Afroditi-Piteni Bijker, Caroline van Gastel, Boris Stoikoff, Walter Crommelin, Hanneke Riemer, Nelly Frijda, Willeke van Ammelrooy, Loes Luca, Hans van den Berg, Chris Bolczek, Anita Menist, Joop van Zijl

Both Ben Sombogaart and Joram Lürsen already have an enormous track record when it comes to appealing films for young and old. Both directors have made many gems in the history of Dutch youth films and series, such as “Otje” (1998), ‘In Oranje’ (2004), ‘The Secret’ (2010) (Lürsen) and ‘My father lives in Rio ‘ (1989), ‘The pocket knife’ (1992) and ‘Pluk van de Petteflet’ (2004) (Sombogaart). They combined their talents for the television series “My French aunt Gazeuse” (1996), based on an original screenplay by Burny Bos and Tamara Bos. The result may be there for sure. In thirteen episodes of 25 minutes we sympathize with the family of Katootje Tekelenburg and the battle for the prize of the neatest family in the Netherlands.

Katootje (Afroditi-Piteni Bijker) is a girl of about eight years old. She’s not very happy. Her parents Martine and Barend (Hanneke Riemer and Walter Crommelin) are very strict and live according to Emmy Gee’s book Het ABC, which contains everything about etiquette. For example, Katootje is not allowed to have a pet, even though she would prefer to have one. Everything should always – without exception – be neatly clean and tidy, not really an environment for a child to grow up in. But her parents don’t realize that… And unfortunately for Katootje, that doesn’t seem to be changing anytime soon, because the village where she lives, Droogbaak, happens to be the neatest, most civilized municipality in the Netherlands. That is why, on Spic-and-span day, the Queen will visit the neatest family in the Netherlands. The mayor of Droogbaak (Nelly Frijda) has launched a competition to determine who that will be. Katootje and her parents are candidates, as is their neighbor Van Zanten (Hans van den Berg). Katootje’s parents want to do everything they can to win, but when an unexpected visitor arrives, that intention turns out to be more difficult than expected.

The sister of Katootje’s mother, Gazeuse (Caroline van Gastel), comes to stay unannounced and for an indefinite period of time. And she’s also accompanied by her French fiancé, OJ of the Loire (Boris de Bournonville). Gazeuse and OJ are polar opposites of their hosts in everything. They enjoy life, each other and don’t worry about clutter. Katootje loves that they are there, but Katootje’s father is especially annoyed by his bold sister-in-law and the inventor who does not speak a word of Dutch. Things often go wrong, but usually OJ saves the day with one of his strange, far-fetched but always working inventions.

Each episode has fixed, recurring elements. It always starts with Katootje writing in her diary, after which she looks back at the events of the past few days. Every episode, neighbor Van Zanten – who is invariably called by his mother on his mobile (one of the first models!) – tries to sabotage things in his favor, which does not always go well for him. And every episode the mayor of Droogbaak comes by to make the latest announcements. In addition to the TV series, a movie was also made, which flopped quite a bit. There’s also too much going on to tell all this in the time span of an average feature film and each episode also contains a musical number, with humorous lyrics and catchy music (Peace, cleanliness, regularity; Garlic that’s batsiedakkie; Marry me; The French dinner song; The Boy Next Door; Praise to Mayor’s Bitterball; Rock Song; The Civilized Breakfast Round; The Laughing Death; Whisper Song; Babbler Chanson; I Am a Plane and Queen’s Song), which reportedly did not make the film version.

The characters are well developed and although you can guess the ending, a lot of unexpected things happen. The screenplay contains funny puns and the acting is perfectly fine. What is striking is that Katootje as an actress does not have a lot of text, we hear her voice more often in voice-over than when she conducts a dialogue. But it does fit well with her brooding character. “My French Aunt Gazeuse” is unadulterated childhood sentiment for children growing up in the 1990s, but if the series passed you by at the time, that’s a good reason to watch this family series together with your children. That household will come later.

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