Review: ‘Look at Me’

Tale of a monstrously egotistical writer and the chubby daughter who craves his approval is a gem of comic melancholy in which a sharp rejoinder is never far away. After her commercial and critical smash "The Taste of Others," helmer/co-scripter/thesp Agnes Jaoui avoids the sophomore slump. Prime candidate for international arthouse play.

Telling inconsistencies in human behavior are the buoyant trampoline for seemingly effortless entertainment in “Look at Me.” Tale of a monstrously egotistical writer and the chubby daughter who craves his approval is a gem of comic melancholy in which a sharp rejoinder is never far away. Back behind the camera after her commercial and critical smash “The Taste of Others,” helmer/co-scripter/thesp Agnes Jaoui avoids the sophomore slump with flying colors. Punchy dialogue, excellent thesping and a real feel for the universal tuning fork of great classical music make this a prime candidate for international arthouse play. Domestic welcome will be exceedingly warm.

Newcomer Marilou Berry makes a terrific debut as Lolita, a chunky young woman of 20 struggling to hang on to her self esteem in a world that prizes svelte figures over inner beauty. Lolita has a lovely singing voice but her teacher at the music conservatory, Sylvia (Jaoui), sees her pupil in a moderately brighter light once she learns that Lolita’s father is famous writer and publisher Etienne Cassard (co-scripter Jean-Pierre Bacri).

Sylvia’s husband Pierre (Laurent Grevill) is a struggling novelist whose latest book caught Cassard’s eye. Cassard, who seems to set new standards for thoughtlessly cavalier behavior every time he opens his acerbic mouth, is too congenitally self-involved to pay the slightest attention to Lolita or to his own rather sweet young trophy wife Karine (Virginie Desarnauts).

The fact that he’s odious isn’t a career impediment in Paris power circles: He’s so influential that people kowtow to him wherever he goes.

Lolita yearns for a boyfriend but finds herself a mere stepping stone to her famous dad. When she meets recent journalism grad Sebastien (Keine Bouhiza) under unconventional circumstances, she’s not sure how to proceed with a guy who apparently appreciates her for herself.

From this batch of characters, scripters Bacri and Jaoui weave an insightful portrait of how proximity to fame or sudden success change the balance of power in formerly equal relationships; how immediate relatives aren’t always one-stop shopping for full emotional support; and — repeating in a new guise one of the central themes of “The Taste of Others” — how art can trigger inspiration and change lives when least expected.

Jaoui shows a sure hand with her cast and makes quietly effective use of the widescreen frame. Her appreciation of the lyric repertoire is communicated without pretension on the soundtrack and in musical performance scenes.

Versatile Bacri is outstanding as a self-centered jerk for the ages. Entire cast makes the most of often deadpan dialogue. For the record, Berry is the daughter of popular scripter-helmer-thesp Josiane Balasko.

Look at Me

France

Production

A Mars Distribution release of a Les Films A4 presentation of a Les Films A4, StudioCanal, France 2 Cinema, Lumiere, Eyescreen production with participation of Canal Plus. (International sales: StudioCanal, Issy-les-Moulineaux, France.) Produced by Jean-Philippe Andraca, Christian Berard. Directed by Agnes Jaoui. Screenplay, Jaoui, Jean-Pierre Bacri.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Stephane Fontaine; editor, Francois Gedigier; music, Philippe Rombi; production designer, Olivier Jacquet; set decorator, Jimena Esteve, Marie-Christine Coudanne; costume designer, Jackie Budin; sound (Dolby), Jean-Pierre Duret, Gerard Lamps, Nadine Muse; assistant director, Antoine Garceau; casting, Brigitte Moidon. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (competing), May 16, 2004. Running time: 111 MIN.

With

Lolita - Marilou Berry Sylvia - Agnes Jaoui Etienne - Jean-Pierre Bacri Pierre - Laurent Grevill Karine - Virginie Desarnauts Sebastien - Keine Bouhiza
With: Gregoire Oestermann, Serge Riaboukine, Michele Moretti.
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