Look at Me
By Michael Koresky
it right when they gave the Best Screenplay
award to longtime companions Jean-Pierre
Bacri and Agnès Jaoui for Look at Me
(Comme une image). A wonderfully
incisive kinda-comedy that uncovers new
character depths and mannerisms with every
scene, Look at Me underplays every
moment to utter perfection; all of its upper-middle-class
Parisian angst hits just the right target.
Viewers who try to box it up as just another
movie about social climbing and hypocritical
bourgeois namby pambies will miss out on
all of director Jaoui’s intricacies of character,
motivation, desire, pain—with deceptive
nonchalance, Jaoui manages to capture some
of the most cutting social critique in movies
Bacri leaves behind his philistine schlubness from Jaoui’s The Taste of Others to fully inhabit the suffocated, blocked, selfish famed novelist Etienne Cassard, whose incessant ignorance of his overweight, plain-Jane daughter Lolita’s (Marilou Berry) knockout opera talents eventually provokes the ire of her music teacher Sylvia (Jaoui), whose neophyte novelist husband (Laurent Grévill) is meanwhile trying to angle himself as Etienne’s acolyte. The whole feels as light as a feather yet every scene holds some sort of ruminative punch. Jaoui has a way of making you take note of every casual cruelty that each character inflicts upon the next almost as if you were passing it in a crowd. It’s a film of so many emotional high points: Etienne’s exiting Lolita’s recital during her solo, Sylvia’s unnecessary chewing out of her husband’s ineffectual literary agent, Lolita’s redemptive nighttime bicycle ride to the train station to reclaim her woebegone, misunderstood prince, Sébastien (Keine Bouhiza, in a delicate, naturally funny performance). Jaoui’s greatest accomplishment is her tendency to not let any of her characters off the hook: Bacri’s Etienne could have fallen into curmudgeonly caricature, Lolita could have been society’s lovable victim, and Sylvia might have been the good spirit who redeems all. Yet Etienne remains controlling and unmoved, Lolita is seen more as a byproduct of her father’s myopic self-sufficiency than as a melancholy counterpoint, and Sylvia’s motivations, initially at least, are all predicated on her own desire to be in the company of celebrity.
In a way, Jaoui and Bacri’s skewering of middle-class complacency and cultural insincerity proves a dazzling French contemporary of Zwigoff’s Ghost World. Different social brackets though they may be, Jaoui surveys her surroundings with a similar roll of the eye, and there’s something liberating in the gesture. Neither film is satire per se, yet their outlook is decidedly parodic, exposing the ridiculousness in the everyday. “If you love real blues then you’ll love Blues Hammer!” squeals that ditz in the bar in Ghost World before busting a move in front of a decidedly top-40 lily-white pretty-boy bar band shouting about “picking cotton all day long.” Steve Buscemi’s slump-shouldered reaction shot conveys an entire universe of contempt for the artificial, the unreal, the lack of the genuine in day-to-day interaction; Zwigoff capitulated. Jaoui does the same with Taste of Others and now with Look at Me, both of which look at a world full of injustices (between lovers, between parents and children, between women and their image) and as only defense can try to laugh it off.