A layered and nuanced comedy of manners, the thoroughly enjoyable "It Takes All Kinds" marks the feature helming debut of Agnes Jaoui, who, with writing partner Jean-Pierre Bacri, is one of the most consistently rewarding sources of stage and screen material in Gaul. Story of an obtuse provincial industrialist who endeavors to broaden his cultural horizons after falling for a tragedienne is primed for excellent local business; pic opened strongly on home turf, with over 500,000 admissions in the first week. Offshore prospects look reasonably bright.

A layered and nuanced comedy of manners, the thoroughly enjoyable “It Takes All Kinds” marks the feature helming debut of Agnes Jaoui, who, with writing partner Jean-Pierre Bacri, is one of the most consistently rewarding sources of stage and screen material in Gaul. Story of an obtuse provincial industrialist who endeavors to broaden his cultural horizons after falling for a tragedienne is primed for excellent local business; pic opened strongly on home turf, with over 500,000 admissions in the first week. Offshore prospects look reasonably bright.

Having penned the bittersweet, semi-sardonic hits “Cuisine et dependances,” “Un air de famille,” “Smoking/No Smoking” and “Same Old Song,” Jaoui and Bacri benefit locally from enormous popular and critical goodwill — seen in the regularity with which they draw rave notices as thesps (most recently as leads, respectively, in “An Outgoing Woman” and “Kennedy and I”). “All Kinds” is another entertaining, if slightly kinder and gentler, script, and in no way looks to break their winning streak.

While he’s far from boorish, Jean-Jacques Castella (Bacri), a no-frills entrepreneur, is not at all conversant with the finer points of the lively arts. Reckoning theater must be dull, he dreads attending Racine’s tragedy “Berenice,” in which his niece has a small role, but unexpectedly finds himself moved by the production. His abrupt enthusiasm for the stage owes much to the thesping power of leading lady Clara Devaux (Anne Alvaro), who moonlights as an English teacher and was once dismissed by Castella after a brief, inconclusive lesson.

Castella, meanwhile, has been assigned a bodyguard, Moreno (Gerard Lanvin), until a major deal with Iranian clients is closed. A former cop who estimates he’s bedded 300 women, Moreno spends much of his time waiting around with Deschamps (Alain Chabat), Castella’s trusting chauffeur. On an errand to buy cigarettes for Moreno, Deschamps reconnects with Manie (Jaoui), bartender at a cafe frequented by Clara and her friends.

Deschamps and Manie once slept together years ago, and now do so again; but Manie soon switches to Moreno as a source of recreational sex. She’s a pragmatic libertine, he’s a reactionary tough guy, and both are latent romantics. If they could only find a common vocabulary that wasn’t flip and guarded, they could snare true happiness together.

Meanwhile, Castella, smitten with Clara, reinitiates his English lessons. She, however, isn’t at all attracted in return, pegging him as a gruff ignoramus with wretched taste. Clara’s chronically underemployed friends see him as a harmless interloper who’s good for picking up the check. (When Castella says most people prefer comedy to drama, Clara’s friends suggest Ibsen and Strindberg as right up his alley. Never having heard of either, Castella dutifully notes their names as surefire sources of laughs.) None of them, however, is truly mean. The only completely unsympathetic character is Castella’s wife, Angelique (Christiane Millet), an interior decorator who swears by chintz and baubles and is more devoted to her dog than to her husband.

In their previous efforts, Jaoui and Bacri have specialized in observing the quirks and foibles that keep otherwise compatible people at cross-purposes. But here, under a title that translates literally as “Other People’s Taste,” their mission is to show how difficult it is to branch out of one’s customary circle and to transcend preconceived notions. Scripters are not opposed to tying up loose ends, which they do here with grace and wit.

Well-oiled ensemble cast is a delight, with highest praise going to stage-trained Alvaro as Clara and to Bacri’s anchoring perf as the straight-talking businessman who opens his heart to art. Jaoui acquits herself honorably in her frosh turn at the helm. Lensing is not particularly imaginative but gets the job done.

Locations convey a sleepy town that prides itself on its fountains, parks and cultural offerings but is occasionally jealous of Paris. Soundtrack of classical snippets is perfectly judged.

The Taste of Others

France

Production

A Pathe release of a Telema/Les Films A4/France 2 Cinema production, with participation of Canal Plus. (International sales: Pathe Intl., Paris.) Produced by Christian Berard, Charles Gassot. Executive producer, Jacques Hinstin. Directed by Agnes Jaoui. Screenplay, Jaoui, Jean-Pierre Bacri.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Jean-Paul Dumas-Grillet; editor, Herve de Luze; music arranger, Jean-Charles Jarrell; art director, Francois Emmanuelli; costume designer, Anne Dunsford-Varenne; sound (Dolby), Jean-Pierre Duret, Dominique Gaborieau; assistant director, Antoine Garreau. Reviewed at UGC Cine Cite, Paris, March 1, 2000. Running time: 112 MIN.

With

Jean-Jacques Castella - Jean-Pierre Bacri Clara Devaux - Anne Alvaro Manie - Agnes Jaoui Moreno - Gerard Lanvin Deschamps - Alain Chabat Beatrice - Brigitte Catillon Angelique - Christiane Millet Antoine - Wladimir Yordanoff
With: Xavier de Guillebon, Raphael Defour, Bob Zaremba, Sam Karmann, Robert Bacri.
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