Dir/scr:Agnes Jaoui. France. 2004. 110mins
Fiveyears after her hugely successful directorial debut Le Gout Des Autres,Agnes Jaoui rewards her impatient admirers with Look At Me (Comme UneImage), a wise and witty ensemble exploration of individuals attempting toovercome their own insecurities and the wounding tyranny of other people'sexpectations.
Reminiscentof vintage Woody Allen, the film casts a warm glow with its acute insights intocomplex human behaviour and rounded characters rich in failings and fears.Sophisticated urbanites everywhere should respond well to the film, suggestinga French response on a par with Le Gout Des Autres and stronginternational prospects. This is one Cannes competition title that shouldtravel widely - especially if the jury honours the talent of beguiling newcomerMarilou Berry with an acting prize.
BridgetJones was delighted to discover a man who loved her just the way she was and inmany respects Look At Me is a morewide-ranging and perceptive reflection on those tortured by a lack ofself-esteem and what we are all willing to endure in the hope of being liked,admired, reassured - and even loved. There are characters and situations herethat everyone will recognise from aspects of their own lives which suggests afilm that can spark plenty of debate and the kind of word of mouth approval onwhich a sustained theatrical career can be built.
Alittle plump and a little plain, Lolita Cassard (Berry) appears to bejustifiably angry with the world. Bruised by life, she has a permanent sense ofinjustice about not being pretty enough, thin enough or good enough. Herproblems largely stem from the relationship with her curmudgeonly,self-obsessed father Etienne (Bacri), a famous novelist with a younger secondwife Karine (Desarnauts) and a small child. Lolita does not even seem toregister on his radar. She is an afterthought and an inconvenience, and heremains blithely oblivious to the hurt he causes her. Lolita even believes thatpeople only see any merit of a friendship with her in the shortcut that itmight provide to her father.
Theone area in which Lolita excels is her singing. Here talent is the greatleveller and superficial appearances are less important. Her voice coach Sylvia(Jaoui) offers her some encouragement but Etienne doesn't even listen to thetape that she gives him. When Sylvia learns that she is Etienne's daughter, sheis prompted to take Lolita's ambitions more seriously, especially as herhusband Pierre (Grevill) is a struggling author who might benefit fromEtienne's patronage.
WhenLolita meets journalist Sebastien (Bouhiza), he seems to love her just forherself but she is unable to recognise the purity of his feelings.
Tracingthe relationships that develop between the central characters, especially thegenuine bond between Lolita and Sylvia, the film has interesting things to sayon the corrupting flame of celebrity that surrounds Etienne and the courage itsometimes takes to just be yourself without any hidden agendas and do the rightthing regardless of the consequences.
Beautifullywritten and paced, Look At Me is one of those films where you can relaxbecause you are in safe hands. It has a graceful flow, with every scene addinga little to our understanding of each character, their weaknesses andstrengths, ambitions and desires. We come to admire Sylvia, despise thebullying Etienne and fall in love with Lolita who is smart and sulky and veryfunny in a self-deprecating way.
On ashopping trip with her waif-like stepmother, she bemoans the fact that there isnothing that will fit her but is persuaded to try on something that is notblack, baggy and craving anonymity. She heads off to the changing room moodilydeclaring: "I hope I can fit in the booth." In Shrek terms this is definitely a woman who sees herself more as anogre than a princess.
Berryeffectively captures all the truculence and mood swings of Lolita, blending herconstant exasperation with a poignant longing for affection and some small signof approval from her father. It is an award-worthy performance that should puther on the map but a performance that also blends in with an immaculateensemble that ranges from Jaoui's immensely sharp and sympathetic performanceto Bacri's callous monster Etienne and Grevil as a man whose constant weaknessmakes your initial sympathy for him ebb away.
Thefilm climaxes at a performance from an amateur vocal ensemble in which Lolitagets to perform. Here, music plays a vital role within the film as anexpression of her talent and an emotional richness that the characters cannotseem to find in their lives.
Prodco: LesFilms A4
Int'l sales: StudioCanal
Prods: Jean-PhilippeAndraca, Christian Berard
Prod des: OlivierJacquet
Main cast: MarilouBerry, Agnes Jaoui, Jean-Pierre Bacri, Laurent Grevill, Virginie Desarnauts,Keine Bouhiza