Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Agnes Jaoui's latest film, Look at Me, is a worthy followup to her excellent The Taste of Others. When I first saw Taste, I started thinking of her as a kind of French Woody Allen. Turns out everyone's been making the comparison, and as she politely points out in a recent profile, the comparison doesn't really fit. Seeing her new movie and revisiting her earlier film (which holds up beautifully), I see how wrong I was, but I'll be less polite about it.

Allen and Jaoui are both middlebrow writer-director-actors, but the comparisons should end there:
  • Woody's characters serve (too often simple) concepts. Agnes creates rounded characters.
  • Woody hogs the spotlight, playing the hero or forcing other actors to adopt his every mannerism. Agnes keeps herself in the supporting ensemble.
  • Woody seems unable to collaborate, to the detriment of his work. Agnes has a writing and acting partner, the excellent Jean-Pierre Bacri.
Jaoui's stories are impressive for their psychological insight, her favorite being that people crave love and attention most from those who spurn them. It's the main theme of Look at Me, but it's also a dynamic at work in Taste. In fact, her movies demand that we puzzle out the characters' psychology. Plot is secondary. I've never seen a character quite like Castella (Bacri) in Taste (the title refers to the challenges--and necessity--of relating to others when their tastes are different from ours). A mildly boorish businessman, begrudgingly dragged to the theater out of social obligation, is struck by an unlikely lightning bolt of artistic appreciation, and it turns his life upside down. Seeing it a second time, I'm esp. impressed with the secondary character arcs.

Rating: Look at Me 3 1/2 out of 4 stars
Rating: The Taste of Others 4 out of 4 stars.

I can't believe I haven't seen Advise & Consent yet. Preminger is one of my favorite directors, and the case has been made that the film (newly issued on DVD as part of the "Controversial Classics" box set being advertised in slick magazines everywhere this week) is more timely than ever.

Been watching Batman reruns for the last month, which I hadn't seen since I was a kid. Eli Wallach once played Mr. Freeze (a part established by the aforementioned Mr. Preminger), an episode I haven't seen yet. But I was looking at Wallach's new memoir, The Good, The Bad, and Me in the bookstore the other day, and in it he says he was urged to take the part by his children and that he was paid $350. He was chagrined decades later to read that the Governator was paid $20 million for the same part. Me, I think I'd have rather seen Wallach get the loot.

Song: This Heart is a Stone by the Acid House Kings, a twee but delicious song stuck in my head thanks to Swedes Please.

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