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TASTE OF OTHERS, THE (Goût des autres, Le)(director/writer: Agnès Jaoui; screenwriter: Jean-Pierre Bacri; cinematographer: Laurent Dailland; editor: Hervé De Luze; cast: Anne Alvaro (Clara), Jean-Pierre Bacri (Castella), Brigitte Catillon (Béatrice), Alain Chabat (Bruno Deschamps), Raphaël Defour (Benoît), Xavier De Guillebon (Weber), Agnès Jaoui (Manie), Gérard Lanvin (Frank Moreno), Anne Le Ny (Valerie), Christiane Millet (Angélique),Wladimir Yordanoff (Antoine); Runtime: 112; Offline Releasing; 1999-France)
“And, isn’t life all about developing taste and evolving!”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

As husband-and-wife actors and screenwriters, Agnes Jaoui and Jean-Pierre Bacri, have been the creative team behind Alain Resnais’ “Same Old Song” and Cedric Klapisch’s “Family Resemblances.” Here Jaoui takes on the directing duties as well. This was a smash box office hit in France and was nominated for and won many top Cesar awards, but lost out to “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” as Best Foreign Film in the Oscars.

A touching romantic/comedy ensues about diverse people trying to find love in a cold world. It becomes a matter of taste if love can be won by Castella (Jean-Pierre Bacri), who is a bored and married industrialist tycoon living in a provincial French city not far from Paris. He has no taste for culture, but suddenly finds he’s smitten by his cultured new English-tutor. He fails to notice how much she attracts him as a tutor, but accidentally sees her onstage and falls in love with her as an actress. She has been hired by his Parisian business consultant Weber (Guillebon), so that he could learn to talk English directly to all his international clients. The intellectual tutor, the 40ish, lonely-heart, Clara (Anne Alvaro), feels the pains of not making it big in the theater and is despondent because she feels her age is starting to work against her. She is appearing as Berenice in Racine’s 17th century verse play that Castella’s overbearing wife Angélique (Millet) drags him to see because their niece has a bit part in it.

Clara is appalled at how crass her student’s taste is and the way he always seems to say the wrong thing, and how he thinks he can impress her with his wealth. But he is blind to the way she sees him and continues to pursue her because he really likes her. He has become stifled by his interior decorator wife who forces her taste upon him. She treats her pet dog with more respect than she does him, as she just loves animals more than she does humans. When he buys a painting from one of his new artsy theater acquaintances because he likes it, she refuses to hang it on her precious pink walls.

Weber has also advised that Castella get a bodyguard, Frank Moreno (Gerard Lanvin), and a chauffeur, Bruno (Alain Chabat), to be with him and his wife around-the-clock, until he signs his big business deal with the Iranians. These two employees are also going through personal problems: Bruno’s girlfriend writes to him that she’s been unfaithful to him in the States. While Frank has slept with as many as 300 women, but does not trust women because of his bad experiences when he was more vulnerable and got hurt by love.

When the film isn’t telling about Castella’s frustrating pursuit of the dismissive Clara it tells of the employees adventures. The trusting chauffeur’s accidental run in with a barmaid named Manie (Jaoui), whom he slept with 10 years ago but now doesn’t remember. The more experienced bodyguard, a tough ex-cop, also becomes aware of her and manages to sleep with her. Though he’s attracted to her, he’s put off that she’s so popular with the men and deals hashish on the side.

The crass Castella is not a mean guy, he’s more of a nice guy who’s a twit with a hangdog expression; he doesn’t realize that Clara’s theater crowd is taking advantage of his ignorance of the arts to make a fool of him. Also, he’s impatient with his formal English lessons, wanting them to be more “fun” and feels more comfortable when it takes place in an English tea restaurant. When he makes a declaration of love to Clara in the restaurant, he has shaven off his bushy mustache because she mentions that she doesn’t like mustaches. But he is still told by her that they have irreconcilable differences, and he realizes for certain now that he is unhappy with just his comfortable materialistic life and must try to better himself culturally. Clara represents that new standard he shoots for.

The charm in this plotless film is that everyone presented is so much different in lifestyle and yet with all their flaws and differences, they all have something going for them that might be appealing to someone else. The story allows us to see each of their points of view clearly as their character is fully developed; it is so smartly and subtly done without patting itself on the back, that it becomes a pleasure to watch such an intelligent presentation on the problems of love and of one developing taste. And, isn’t life all about developing taste and evolving! The more limited one is, the more limited one’s friendships and love will be! The performers all do a marvelous job of getting this across and they make the film a joy to see. It’s thankfully a film that has a life of its own and shuns any formulaic way of resolving this tale.

REVIEWED ON 6/24/2001 GRADE: B +

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”