April is French Film Month!

The Taste of Others (2000)
Directed by Anges Jaoui
Co-written and starring Jean-Pierre Bacri
Also Starring Anne Alvaro
Do any of these names mean anything to you?

My Rating:

It's delightful to see a schlub get some enlightenment.

Bitable Bytes:
"Cultural Flare...Spiritual Spark!"
"A good exploration into life as we humans know it!"

What to do while watching:
Enjoy it.

What to eat while watching:
Something light and French: petit fours, perhaps, or a croissant.

A deeper look into the romanticized world of the media reviewer shows that oftentimes these literati will seen a film, read a book, or hear an album a few weeks before actually writing their review. If you don't believe this is true, just take me as an example.

I saw The Taste of Others about three weeks ago, and though it was the inspiration for a month's worth of French-film reviews, it is already sinking into the recesses of my mind beneath a crazy week at work and more activity in my social life than I have seen since last spring (and you thought I was just on holiday). Every year this seems to happen: when the hibernation of winter finally breaks, everyone starts meeting everyone for dinners, parties, and various happenings around town. Amid this activity, a film that's as close to real life as this one is, is bound to begin fading from memory as real, real life sets in.

A stylistic element often present in French film seems to be verisimilitude, a faithfulness to reality and real-seeming characters and events. Though I am by no means an expert on the subject of French film, I have noticed that French directors often aim at this realistic representation. Certainly a director like Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Amelie/City of Lost Children) has elements of surrealism, but even he strives for truth in his characterizations. Amelie, though unique, is not unbelievable. A character like One (from City of Lost Children) is believable in the context of that nightmarish world.

But it's a distraction for me to focus on the highly memorably films of Jeunet. (I really did love Amelie, and was recently even further disillusioned at the Academy of Arts and Sciences' bias and blindness when it comes to naming the best in film.) Let me try dredging into the distance past of early March for something coherent to say about The Taste of Others.

The story is that of a boorish businessman who has come to town to formalize a deal with foreign investors. He is attended by two bodyguards, a managerial toady and a nagging wife who is an expert at awful interior design. Though wealthy, he is a rather colorless man with little cultural flare or spiritual spark. It is by coincidence that he winds up at the theater, ready to sleep through some amateur production.

What he experiences instead transforms him deeply. Not only does the play move him to tears, but he has received a taste of love and life that he hasn't felt in many years. It's the lead actress: her skill and her tragic loveliness that grips him so; and this fleeting, chance encounter causes him to begin pursuing the actress, first hiring her as an English coach, and later spending time with her theater friends. (Though they mock him mercilessly, he remains good natured.) The actress remains convinced that she and Mr. Business have nothing in common and that his wooing is misguided. But he writes a limb-twistingly awful love poem to her anyway. It's obvious it's bad, but what becomes equally obvious to the viewer, if not to Madame Actress, is that she grossly overlooks the poem's sincerity.

Will she one day realize that he his soul is worthy? We begin to hope so, though the chances seem slim. Meanwhile, we watch how these new feelings drive wedges between the man and his business, the man and his business partners, and the man and his wife. We also watch a side-story about one of the bodyguards being overly sensitive and the other being extremely jaded. Both of these guys court the same waitress, who has an ease of personality in direct contrast to the actress.

The romantic exploration, then, breaks down between five major players, three men and two women:

  • Businessman has forgotten how to love, or never known, but may be rediscovering it.
  • Sensitive bodyguard wants affection, but is shy and mystified by it.
  • Jaded bodyguard has plenty of closeness, but will not perceive it as worthy beyond the physical, sexual level.
  • Actress enacts love on stage, but has a hard time getting over past hurts and disappointments in her real-life love-life
  • Waitress is openly loving but can't seem to find the right guy, a guy who's good-looking, steady-spirited and open-souled.

All of this makes for good exploration into life as we humans know it, and there are charming if not extremely memorable moments. If French film is known for extended talky scenes, then this film will only fuel the stereotype, but it was a mellow pleasure to watch and has left a faint rose fragrance in my memory, a generally nice feeling without any indelible lines, thoughts, or images.

Next: Singing, Sighing, Raining: The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.

Want to share a happy story with Gooden?

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For your collection: The Taste of Others (VHS), The Taste of Others (DVD)

Gooden's listening to: Ronnie Dawson's More Bad Habits: Rockabilly is a wholly derivative form of music coming from a blend of pop sensibilities with basal country rock. Ronnie Dawson, now pushing 60, is one of the sources from whom Rockabilly is derived: he is delivering untainted country rock about fast cars, women, barbecue, and "drankin'." But I'm not putting him on a pedestal in any way. Though the music is fun to listen to in all its roughness, you'll lose count of unforgivable cliches, both lyrical and musical, by the third track. If he weren't so sincere, it would be pretty bad, actually, especially the humorless misrendering of Nat "King" Cole's "The Frim Fram Sauce." (In Dawson's de-scatted interpretation: "With the awesome taste and some salsa on the side.")

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