dir. Agnès Jaoui
Opens Fri March 23 at the Varsity.
"Farce" is perhaps the best known anagram of the word "French." Let us ignore, for the moment, that the above statement is not factually correct, and look at the new film The Taste of Others, directed by Agnès Jaoui. This film is a true farce: The characters are exaggerated, their situations improbable, their relations bordering on the slapstick. The wafer-thin story pivots around a businessman, Castella, who, after being unexpectedly moved at a performance of Racine's Bérénice, begins to court the lead actress, Clara--unsuccessfully, of course. Tangential tales frame the businessman's wife, an aggressively florid interior designer, as well as his two odd-couple bodyguards and an assortment of lesser characters, including a lovelorn barkeep and a foppish painter.
Jaoui's ensemble direction is worthy of comparison to the best of Altman; with its wildly diverging characters and its cheerful plot contrivances, The Taste of Others is a spiritual brother to Short Cuts. The films share the same sense of urban drift and cheery fatalism, and, unlike Nashville, both are saturated with rich comic performances. Jean-Pierre Bacri's Castella is the standout of the bunch. His perfectly rendered traverse from world-weariness to naive optimism lifts the film up like air in a soufflé.
Of course, the soufflé is a French creation. So is champagne. The Taste of Others joins that company, with its feathery charm and inescapable Gallic wit. Indeed, for all its forays into other export realms--aerospace, hair products, and automobiles, to name a few--the bubbly farce remains one of France's most reliable export commodities, as ably demonstrated by The Taste of Others. In fact, based on this film, I would recommend that the French government take all the money it is pouring into the ham-fisted Airbus super-jumbo jet and sink it into more farce. Indeed, I say this to you, France: Leave the airplane-building to our hometown boys, and give us more films like The Taste of Others.