by Greg Muskewitz
Along with "Memento," the other solid film this week is the French comedy, "The Taste of Others." (No matter how bad "Tomcats" is, it is not nearly potent or pungent enough to deter any of the strength and arrival of either of these films even singly.) Respected actress and writer Agnès Jaoui makes her directorial debut with "Taste," which she co-wrote with long-time writing partner Jean-Pierre Bacri. American audiences have not been giving a proper introduction to the stunning, poignant and mature works that these two have contributed to, with the two other only written films of theirs, "Same Old Song" and "Un Air de Famille," having been shown for a grand-whopping total of ten days in San Diego. (And this only scheduled to run for a week. That, however, may well be extended!)To outright label "The Taste of Others" a comedy would be incorrect. To label it anything, outside of French, really would not be fitting, but in it's amalgamation of humor, drama and simple human nature and condition, there is a reality and depth missing from so many American films. "The Taste of Others" is a subtle examination of people --the regular people who tend to blend in among society, yet that Jaoui and Bacri say that they base off of real models, people they know. I tend not to find that difficult to believe.
"The taste of a new authority in cinema: Agnès Jaoui."
Our main protagonist is Mr. Castella (Bacri), identified as only a businessman, who is in need of English lessons for dealing with his current Iranian counterparts. He meets Clara (Anne Alvaro) who's lack of a "fun" method of learning puts him off, but is intensified or amplified when he sees her in a performance as the title role in "Bérénice." Castella's disdain for theatre is put off for his crush/infatuation for the aging actress, and although they come from complete different circles, there is an attempted infiltration.
But "The Taste of Others" isn't just a one-package deal. In addition to Castella and his fish-out-of-water attraction, we also have the benefit of following Clara, a spinster, if for no other reason that she isn't interested in sex without the prerequisite of love; Manie (Jaoui), the slightly promiscuous bartender who is also a pot dealer for the extra cash; the chauffeur (Alain Chabat), also a neophyte flutist (less important to the narrative as a whole, until the association of completion as significant to everyone’s comeuppance, or for some, comedownance); a body guard (Gérard Lanvin), whose enthusiasm really turns out to be ennui; and Castella's wife (Christiane Millet), an awful interior decorator, far more interested in companionship with her dog Flucky, than with an human including her husband. The thing that makes all this so pertinent, is that these are all real people, they way we act and the uncontrollable impulses we follow.
Without the proper exposure to the films Jaoui has been involved with, it might be harder to identify where she is coming from, but first and foremost is the influence of director Alain Resnais (who she and Bacri scripted "Smoking/No Smoking," and "Same Old Song" for, as well as acting in the latter), and her extension of themes or views of the people that she is observing. Hardly subjective, Agnès seems much more interested in observing this people and their behavior, reserving bias and remaining clear-headed and objective --much like Resnais. There are the obligatory character or characters that we are removed from (i.e. Castella's wife), but she allows us to make up our own mind, and in most cases, like with Castella, even though we hear negative things said about him, he is not unlikable. Jaoui continues Resnais' exploration of the human element and human condition of "being." Not acting as an authority, Jaoui follows them through the courses of their actions as anybody would with curiosity. And much of that credit is due to Jaoui and Bacri for their acute and nimble screenplay, where the effort is just as evident and prominent. It's hard to deny a good thing when it works, and the duo's collaboration has been one of the most fruitful as any writing team could want. One of the delights, or surprises is the amount of ripe humor and the reaction that "The Taste of Others" gathers. It can be something as simply as Castella's repeating "what" or "nothing" in English, or his identification of a classical operetta not in its well-known form, but in that of a commercial. ("Juanita Banana...")
In addition her similarity in relation to expressing the characters, Jaoui also follows much in the visual pattern of Resnais too, with the usage of calm, oriented long takes, the progressive evolvement or unfolding of scenes, the light shades of color, etc. What it isn't, is a repetition, but an adoption of technique, an altering to fit her own style, and an influence of a great, as she is well on her way to becoming a great too. It might be premature to make such a bold statement, but in addition to having faith in my predication, she has the promise and background of highly revered career so far as an actress and writer.
Being an actor's director, Jaoui knows how to cull the most out of her performers. The cast has much talent to begin with, and Jaoui harness it all in the right places, the most impressive and complimentary being Anne Alvaro, mostly a stage actress in France, therefore a new face on the screen here. She is wonderfully natural and understated. Bacri, also very talented, is able to so aptly distinguish and transition from comic to dramatic, and combine the two to propel him to a high calibre of performance. No matter the demands, articulation, physical, or related to his broad range of physiognomies, Bacri can steal any scene gracefully at whim. Jaoui's own performance is also very good, and she too emits a natural feel, an unpretentiousness, and rather than demanding attention, she illicits it all on her own (as she is able to project to her actors).
Without question, I see Agnès Jaoui and Jean-Pierre Bacri steadily rising to the top-most ranks of world cinema, and the universality of their films has won me over in its choice of natural over artificial, and the overall pleasant and simple nature. But in the world of cinema, "The Taste of Others" achieves the task of placing everything in order with the best elections, options and a subtle use of discretion.
http://www.landmark-theatres.comFinal Verdict: A.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=4922&reviewer=172
originally posted: 03/31/01 05:34:43