Look at Me

Director: Agnes Jaoui

France| 2004. English subtitles. Colour. Anamorphic. Dolby digital stereo. 110 min.

After only two ?lms as writer-director, Agnes Jaoui has already emerged as one of the major forces in contemporary French cinema. Starting out as an actress, she began writing screenplays in the early 1990s. Together with her partner and regular collaborator Jean-Pierre Bacri, she helped Alain Resnais make his elaborate, two-part tribute to Alan Ayckbourn, Smoking, No Smoking. Three years later, they wrote and acted in Cedric Klapisch’s Un air de famille. Almost at once, their screen personas were in place: Jaoui kindly, engaging, very slightly neurotic; Bacri sour, curmudgeonly and self-absorbed.
Look at Me ventures into darker territory than Jaoui’s acclaimed directorial debut, Le Goût des autres (The Taste of Others). This time around, it’s not class or economic differences that are at the root of the con?ict, but rather individual weakness, egocentrism and a complicated network of power relationships that exist between nearly all the characters. At the centre of the ?lm is Lolita Cassard (Marilou Berry), a twenty-year-old overweight woman who is training to be a soprano (her teacher is played by Jaoui). Her father Etienne (Bacri) is a famous, monstrously egotistical novelist and publisher who’s blithely indifferent to his daughter’s unhappiness. Lolita is a soft, wounded presence whose apparent docility conceals a deep undercurrent of loathing, both for herself and for a world which judges her by her appearance.
Jaoui’s screenplay, which won a prize at Cannes, is subtle and beautifully crafted. It excels at drawing out the interconnectedness of the characters and the true nature of their relationships. Jaoui is especially smart about the divisions of taste and education that have replaced traditional class divides and she’s bracingly disenchanted with a certain contemporary bourgeoisie lifestyle. Look at Me is a work of consummate skill, great humanity, and quite but formidable intelligence.

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