The Taste of Others
Is there room in this world for the ‘well-made’ film? The French film “The Taste of Others,” like a wonderful novel, is a seamlessly crafted work of warm observation and witty moments. Without tricks or gimmicks or stylistic flourishes it sweeps us up into its world, opening us to the deliciously observed lives of its very real people. Set in Rouen, it’s the story of a successful businessman, M. Castella (Jean-Pierre Bacri, who cowrote the script with his wife Agnès Jaoui, who also directed). Castella is the kind of well-meaning boor who makes homophobic jokes to an obviously gay man, who has never heard poetry spoken on stage (a performance of a Racine play induces a crush on Clara, the leading actress. In fact he hires her to give him English lessons so that he might see more of her.)
Clara (Anne Alvaro), at forty caught in the throes of insecurity about her acting career, hangs out at the bar of Manie (Jaoui in an enchanting performance), who has always made and left a series of casual relationships, and who also sells marijuana for some extra money. Manie in turn is attracted to Moreno, Castella’s bodyguard, who is as casual as she about commitment.
Castella is saddled with his controlling wife Angelique and her dog Flucky – one of the great dog names of all time – and the film, more or less, is the story of how he comes to stand up for himself; or rather for the best of himself. The story is told with delicacy and wit, and leaves no one out. We are as interested in Manie and Clara and Moreno – and a few others – as we are in Castella.
The film is charming, which I mean as a compliment, and is enriched because it has the underpinning of a script that lets us come to know its people at the same time as they come to know themselves. It pulls together the softly braided strands of lives that touch each other in newly fresh ways, and lets us experience those moments along with the people on screen. This is Jaoui’s first film as director, though she has a career as actress, playwright and screenwriter, and she handles her cast and camera with unobtrusive skill. The film was France’s official entry this year for a Best Foreign Film Oscar (it lost to “Crouching Tiger”).