August 23, 2005

What Took You So Long?

Coincidentally enough, with the arrival last week of this year's New York Film Festival's line-up, Cinecultist had finally got around to watching on DVD the opening film from last year, Agnes Jaoui's Look At Me just last weekend. This is such a great little movie, we can't believe it took us this long to watch it. Like a Gallic-Bridget Jones's Diary only less silly, the movie follows an unlikely heroine, the overweight daughter of a famous novelist.

If you've ever wondered what kind of complexes Sofia Coppola must have had before she was an Oscar-winning director and style icon, when she was merely a daughter with a famous name, a struggling clothing line and an interest in photography, Look At Me might shed some light. The parent-child relationship is one of the most complex ones we ever have. The desire to live up to their expectations, to compete with them or even surpass their accomplishments but also to feel validated and loved by them. Then throw in some body images issues and a step-mother who is your age, only thin and blonde, and you can understand why our main character, Lolita (the wonderfully natural Marilou Berry) is a bit neurotic.

Always fearing that her friends or boyfriends only like her for her famous father's connections, she's still a person accustomed to getting what she wants by association. Even Lolita's singing teacher Sylvia (played by the director) is initially drawn to helping Lolita because of Sylvia's admiration for the father Étienne Cassard's work and the way he can help Sylvia's husband Pierre's struggling writing career.

The complexity of these characters and their relationships, as well as the simply human ways they react to various situations, really sneaks up on you while you're watching the film. You don't realize how much you've come to care for them and how strongly you are rooting for a just or fair resolution. This is where Jaoui and her long-time writing as well as life partner Jean-Pierre Bacri (who plays Lolita's father) really succeed. The movie ends just as you would hope it would in your most sappy Hollywood-ish fantasies and yet it feels as naturalistic as the rest of the picture. That's a precarious and delicate balance to achieve, and the product of a real narrative master.

Review from the Reverse Shot folks on indieWire back when it had theatrical release earlier this year and an indieWire interview with Jaoui.

Posted by karen at August 23, 2005 8:45 AM