Dir: Agnes Jaoui. France. 112 mins.
Prod cos: Telema, Les Films A4, France 2 Cinema. Int'l sales: Pathe International (+1 310 247 4747). Prod: Charles Gassot. Scr: Jaoui and Jean-Pierre Bacri. DoP: Laurent Dailland. Prod des: Francois Emmanueli. Ed: Herve de Luze. Main cast: Jean-Pierre Bacri, Agnes Jaoui, Gerard Lanvin, Alain Chabat, Anne Alvaro, Brigitte Catillon, Christiane Millet.
Agnes Jaoui and Jean-Pierre Bacri are the hottest item in French films, and then some. In the past decade this writing-acting tandem has chalked up an enviable list of stage and screen successes, notably the scripts of Alain Resnais' last two feature films, Smoking/No Smoking (in which they did not appear) and Same Old Song (in which they did - they also won a Cesar Award for best script).
Now comes Le Gout Des Autres, a tartly funny, touching group portrait of middle class malaise, with Jaoui taking on duties as director in addition to co-scripting and co-starring. Its critical and commercial success is so phenomenal that one leading entertainment weekly opened its columns to a psychoanalyst, an ethnologist and a neurobiologist to try to explain it all.
That success is easy to explain: it is written with wry humour and compassion, performed by a superb cast and directed by Jaoui with a discretion and quiet assurance rare among first-timers. And it sends the audience out of the theatre with a conclusion so subtly contrived, one doesn't mind the feel-good carpentry.
Bacri, an appealing curmudgeon on-screen and off, hones his act as a dour, bored provincial industrialist who ' a bit like Kevin Spacey in American Beauty ' is jarred out of his passive mediocrity when he falls for a talented but struggling stage actress (sensationally embodied by Anne Alvaro). But his clumsy attempts to penetrate Alvaro's social milieu only lead to embarrassment and frustration.
The Bacri-Alvaro relationship is enriched by several tangential characters, notably Bacri's personal driver (Alain Chabat) and his temporary bodyguard (Gerard Lanvin), both hapless and disillusioned males. Lanvin gets romantically and unhappily involved with a barmaid and sometime drug dealer (Jaoui). All these roles are fully realised and perfectly integrated into the script's fabric by director Jaoui.
The film's original title translates literally as "A Taste for Others." Jaoui and Bacri have cooked up a savoury entertainment that will give audiences a taste for more. In addition, it stands good export chances.