the taste of others(2000)
director: agnès jaoui
jean-pierre bacri, anne alvaro, christiane millet

. Within the first ten minutes of Agnès Jaoui’s debut film, we’ve made up our minds about the main characters. Castella (Jean-Pierre Bacri) is a boor, the kind of businessman whose success has convinced him that he can say anything, act as rudely as he feels, and otherwise shamble through life lashing out at whatever makes him feel stupid or inadequate. His wife, Angelique, is a sensitive soul, forever apologizing for her husband’s rudeness. His new English tutor, Clara, is a talented actress near the end of an unsuccessful career, the very model of artistic purity. We’ve seen them before -- and we think we know what to expect.

Except that we are totally wrong. When Castella’s wife forces him to attend an evening at the theatre, he falls in love with Clara, the crude boor moved to tears by her performance. His wife reveals herself as the kind of sensitive soul whose cooing empathy for animals is the flipside of an utter lack of respect for people. Clara and her artistic friends are snobs, snidely unwilling to see beyond Castella’s lack of culture as he tries to ingratiate himself with them, the philistine unexpectedly made aware of an awful hole in his life. 

Written by Bacri and Jaoui -- a husband and wife team in real life -- the triangle at the centre of the film is contrasted by another triangle, made up of Castella’s chauffeur and bodyguard and a waitress -- played by Jaoui -- they meet during the endless time they spend waiting for their boss and his wife. A Hollywood script editor would have cut this secondary story, but it’s a credit to Jaoui’s direction that it never seems like a distraction. 

The performances are uniformly excellent -- Bacri in particular exudes a graceless but humourous hostility that shatters as his life falls apart. Anne Alvaro as Clara, with her long face and black-rimmed eyes, hints at a deep loneliness that lurchingly responds to Castella even after she inevitably rejects him. A romance for realists that still manages to suggest a happy ending.