Dir. Agnes Jaoui, France. 2008. 100mins
Agnes Jaoui and Jean-Pierre Bacri cast a typically perceptive eye over the discreet charms of the bourgeoisie in Let It Rain (Parlez Moi De La Pluie). This ambitious ensemble piece is not as instantly appealing as their previous collaboration on 2004's Comme Une Image (Look At Me), but blossoms into a rueful examination of human foibles and failings. The film's mixture of smart dialogue, rounded characters and shrewd observation make it a civilised pleasure and should ensure a strong theatrical performance on its French release (September 17) and a warm global welcome amongst followers of well-heeled French drama.
Sharing common themes with Comme Une Image, the new film is equally focused on family tensions and the kind of lingering grievances and callous acts that leave permanent scars. The scope is wider this time as the lives of individual characters lend themselves to an examination of class conflict, prejudice and the daily lies and deceptions that allow people to look at themselves in the mirror without feeling ashamed.
Jaoui plays Agathe Villanova, a feminist author who has decided to enter politics. She will announce her candidacy at a rally in her home town in the South of France. Her ten-day visit is also a chance to spend time with her sister Florence (Arbillot) and her family. The visit is seen as an opportunity by Karim (Debbouze), the son of Algerian housekeeper Mimouna who has spent a lifetime with Agathe's family. Karim is a hotel receptionist with aspirations to become a filmmaker and uses his personal connection to persuade Agathe to participate in a succession of interviews for a documentary in a series on successful women. His collaborator is Michael Ronsard (Bacri) and the filming unfolds with a mixture of incompetence and unexpected aggression.
In its initial stages, Let It Rain feels top-heavy with plot, especially once we start to discover some of the complex connections between the main characters. It gradually finds its rhythm and focus, building into a thoughtful reflection on human nature, the sorry state of contemporary politics and the casual racism of the privileged elite.
The relationship between Agathe and Karim even carries echoes of Michael Haneke's Hidden as Agathe is forced to confront some home truths about her domineering personality and complacent views about society. Everyone in the film is a product of their imperfections. They are all guilty of deluding themselves and deceiving the ones that are closest to them. The appeal of the film lies in the way that it neither judges them nor treats their problems with undue sentimentality. Instead, there is an understanding of the way life is and a recognition that we simply have to make the most of it, come rain or shine.
Let It Rain appears to be quite casual but it is a quality that only emerges from a deft sense of construction, cause and effect. Subtle, good-looking and very agreeable, it is also well-acted, especially by Jean-Pierre Bacri whose Michel is a small masterclass in self-absorption and blithe indifference to the world around him.
Les Films A4
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