Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Jean-Pierre Bacri, Christiane Millet, Anne Alvaro, Gerard Lanvin, Alain Chabat, Agnes Jaoui
Written by: Jean-Pierre Bacri, Agnès Jaoui
Directed by: Agnès Jaoui
MPAA Rating: R for language and drug content
Language: French, with English subtitles
Running Time: 112
Date: 03/01/2000
IMDB

The Taste of Others (2001)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Making a French Connection

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Actress-turned-screenwriter Agnes Jaoui (Une Air de Famille and Same Old Song) has now become a screenwriter-turned-director with The Taste of Others, one of the five current Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nominees.

Of Jaoui's previous films, I've only seen Same Old Song, a wonderful musical comedy directed by the great Alain Resnais (Hiroshima, Mon Amour and Last Year at Marienbad). Jaoui is no Resnais, but Same Old Song and The Taste of Others share a deceptively structured playwright's style. Both pictures are talky, but their casual wandering feel swirls the viewer in before we even realize how much dialogue there is.

Jaoui opens her movie with a long tracking shot. Two men in dark suits wait in a restaurant and discuss soccer (more appropriately, crooked referees). We listen to them for a moment, then the camera leaves them and tracks to the dining room where we view two men and a woman finishing a meal. A man sporting a ridiculous moustache (Jean-Pierre Bacri, who co-wrote the screenplay) orders his dessert and the woman tells him he shouldn't. He whines to the other man that he really doesn't need to be in that meeting tomorrow, and that he should go without him. As they get up to leave, the camera leads us back to the first two men, and they all leave together.

We'll find out, in due time, that the man is a businessman named Castella, the woman is his wife Angelique (Christiane Millet) and the other man is his partner. The two men in the waiting room are Castella's chauffer (Alain Chabat) and bodyguard (Gerard Lanvin), respectively. On their off hours, the chauffer and bodyguard hang out in a bar tended by Manie (director Jaoui) and they both try to whip up romantic flings with her. Castella attends a play and falls madly in love with the lead actress (Anne Alvaro), who also happens to be teaching him English during the day.

The best thing about The Taste of Others is that the movie is in no hurry to provide us with this information. We're simply allowed to listen in on conversations that we know nothing about until eventually we do know what's going on. That moment of realization comes so quietly you won't even realize its there. That's the magic of this movie: we experience the joy of discovery. Most American comedies don't have the guts to keep us in the dark for any length of time. They'll bend logic to its limits in order to fully introduce us to every character in the first ten minutes.

Jaoui also triumphs with her relaxed directorial style. Her camera roams around as if it's merely taking a walk, carefully taking in interesting events, but without making itself known. An American version of this comedy would have grown bored with itself and tossed in a random pratfall or car chase. But The Taste of Others concentrates on human follies based on how we behave in public. When Castella tries to hang out with the actress and her artist friends, he makes an idiot out of himself, but we're not meant to laugh at him, nor are we meant to feel sorry for him. We empathize with him because maybe we've been in the same place ourselves, and the moment feels real.

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