April 08, 2005

Look at Me

Directed by Agnès Jaoui Starring Jaoui and Jean-Pierre Bacri

Reviewed by Martin Tsai

Parisiens are practically the same as Manhattanites. At least they appear that way in les mondes parallèles constructed by Agnès Jaoui and Woody Allen, where petty preoccupations perpetually frustrate the narcissistic bourgeoisie. Perhaps snobs are not entirely unique to Paris and New York, as you’ll always notice inconsiderate faux cinéphiles attending local cinémathèques religiously in a thinly-veiled attempt to prove their sophistication. Those moviegoers will certainly relate to Jaoui’s or Allen’s work for depicting the style de vie they lead or aspire to.

Gliding among stuck-up literary and classical-music types at lavish parties, fancy restaurants and posh homes, Jaoui’s Look at Me scrutinizes the hypocritical mutual dependency and loathing between insufferable VIPs and obsequious sycophants. Those in power get away with routine insensitivity, and only display interest in others when in need. The nobodies are eager to sell out their principles in exchange for fame and fortune. People say things they don’t mean to avoid confrontations, but their self-interest threatens to betray those white lies. This world of high art is full of shallow egos and ambitions.

A.O. Scott of The New York Times wrote that while the film’s “characters’ folkways may strike Americans as quaint, picturesque or enviable – if only the cook at our country house made rabbit with tarragon sauce! - their behavioral traits, the less admirable ones in particular, will not seem exotic at all.” Considering he also pronounced Sideways as “the most overrated film of the year,” he possibly lets personal bias cloud his better judgment since both films feature similarly complex and realistic characters who are at once endearing and loathsome. Perhaps he can’t fully appreciate Alexander Payne’s film because its uncannily crafted underachievers are foreign to Scott’s scène sociale.

Jaoui and Jean-Pierre Bacri’s interwoven screenplay etches out power dynamics with precision, rendering every scenario and emotional facet true. But what begins as an observant social satire eventually devolves with a humdrum female-empowerment tangent à la Fat Girl emerging as its morale de l'histoire. The final justice impacts only a fraction of the characters, and the pair of conceited hotshot authors here miss out on the lessons they deserve the most. You get the impression that Miles Raymond’s unpublished The Day After Yesterday is a better read than anything these soulless jerks could come up with. Unless, of course, you’re A.O. Scott.

Reprinted from WestEnder. © Copyright 2005 Martin Tsai. All rights reserved.