Scali DelpeyratAgnes JaouiJean-Pierre BacriAnne Alvaro
The Taste of Others
Medium: film
Year: 2000
Director: Agnes Jaoui
Writer: Agnes Jaoui, Jean-Pierre Bacri
Keywords: Oscar-nominated
Language: French, English
Country: France
Actor: Anne Alvaro, Jean-Pierre Bacri, Alain Chabat, Agnes Jaoui, Gerard Lanvin, Christiane Millet, Wladimir Yordanoff, Anne Le Ny, Brigitte Catillon, Raphael Dufour, Xavier De Guillebon, Camille Andraca, Celine Arnaud, Robert Bacri, Marie Agnes Brigot, Michel Caccia, Desir Carre, Claude Cretient, Scali Delpeyrat, Jerome Huguet, Sam Karmann, Gael Klein, Cecile Partouche, Bob Zaremba
Format: 112 minutes
Website category: Foreign language
Review date: 9 December 2010
It's a French movie that was Oscar-nominated for Best Foreign Language Film and won the Cesar awards for Best Film, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress and Best Writing. It's directed by Agnes Jaoui and co-written by her with her husband Jean-Pierre Bacri, both of whom also act in it. The two of them have since teamed up similarly to make Look at Me (2004) and Parlez-moi de la pluie (2008), of which the former won the Best Screenplay award at Cannes.
They're not playing a husband and wife, though. Bacri is the main character, a clumsy philistine of a businessman, and Jaoui is a waitress who sells drugs.
About halfway through this film, I didn't really see the point of it. It was just us watching some French people. By the end I thought it was good, though. The story involves Bacri's gradual, almost imperceptible journey from being someone you wouldn't want around to being a fairly decent guy. It's partly a process of self-discovery on his part and partly our unfolding perceptions. It's slow, it's incredibly subtle and in the end it's heartwarming.
What's interesting to me is the way in which the film's picking up Bacri on tiny points. When he turns away someone who's trying to sell him flowers, for instance, I think his companion scolds him not for the actual words he used, but merely for the thoughtless way in which he said them. He's not a monster. He's basically a good guy. He's just lacking in self-awareness and liable to do things like forget to cancel meetings, or else say things more bluntly than was necessary. He makes himself look ridiculous on shoehorning himself into a group of actors and artists, but to be honest his crime there is simply to be uneducated. They mock him and he doesn't even realise. Just as he's bad at guessing what other people think, so do other people make casually judgemental assumptions about him in the same way. They think he's an idiot, which is admittedly true but equally doesn't mean that you can brush aside everything he says and does.
Furthermore, the film has other characters in a similar situation. His chauffeur is good-hearted, if slightly naive, and already more likeable than most people on the planet... but he still has room for improvement. "Aren't I nice?" "Not entirely." It wouldn't hurt him to work on his attitude towards his fiancee and sexual relationships, although it's possible that there he's just being French.
Bacri's wife, on the other hand, is a monster of tunnel vision, capable of scolding passers-by for the crime of being bitten by her dog. She's not a bad person either, though. She means well. She has a good heart. However you're not human if you don't cringe at the two of them backstage at their niece's stage performance. Your costume's ugly, isn't it? It's a shame you didn't have a bigger part. Only three lines. I liked the play, but you don't know how to cry well, do you? It's not that they're evil, but simply that they aren't putting filters between mouth and brain, suggesting a lack of empathy for the other person's feelings and point of view.
That's subtle material. Even the nicest, most scrupulous character is capable of getting this stuff wrong. It's not exciting and a good chunk of this film might appear to be treading water, but if you stick with it, you'll eventually see where it's all going.
There's a small point that I think works better in French. Bacri's way of saying he likes something is to say that it's his taste, which reminds us of the original title of "Le gout des autres" and makes it a summation of the theme. I didn't get that from the English subtitles, while there's even less merit in the alternative English title of "It Takes All Kinds". At least "The Taste of Others" is a literal translation, even if it smacks of cannibalism.
Occasionally the film's funny. I wouldn't call it a comedy, but you could easily turn it into one. It also feels a bit French in its attitude to marriage, girlfriends and so on, although not irredemably. Fundamentally it's a closely observed film in which no one's perfect and not a lot actually happens, but fortunately it's doing so with enough skill that it works. It's intelligent. It's also well acted, with everyone keeping their characters real and sympathetic even when they're being dicks. Finally it's saying things too subtle for most movies and it ends in a charming resolution with a strong theme about our responsibility to think of other people.
You'll need a bit of patience, though. You'd never believe it had been Oscar-nominated if you stopped halfway through.