Thursday, July 23, 2009

J'adore: Agnès Jaoui and Jean-Pierre Bacri

If I were a curator of a film festival, one of the first things I'd do is dedicate a soiree to this French duo. Jaoui (born 1964) and Bacri (born 1951) started working together in the theatre, and continued to co-write and co-star in four films: "Same old song", or in French "On connait la chanson" (directed by Alain Resnais, 1997), and later three films that Jaoui directed herself: "The taste of others" (2000), "Look at Me" (2004) and "Let's talk about the rain" (2008).

In this interview with the couple, Bacri talks about their writing process: "When we get an idea, we start exploring the theme; we start out with characters we need, then we'll say, 'OK, now we need someone who such-and-such...', 'Yes, but we also need someone who...', 'Yes, but then what about someone else who...', and we end up with five or six interlocking stories. That's why it's so hard to sum these films up."
Jaoui and Bacri specialize in ensemble comedies, filled with smart dialogues and bitter-comic moments, some of them are almost as cruel as the cruelest moments in "Extras" (Ricky Gervais' TV series about two movie extras who lack any tact and consistently get humiliated by others. See video below). Such is "Look at me", that tells the story of a successful and egocentric writer (played by Bacri) who prefers his angelic young daughter from his second marriage over his older fat daughter from his first marriage. Like in Ricky Gervais' merciless world, in "Look at me" the egocentric father doesn’t change his ways - he stays egocentric and insensitive till the end.

"Same old song", homage to Dennis Potter's work, was very popular for its use of old French chansons. But I personally think that Jaoui and Bacri's best collaboration so far is "The taste of others", mainly because it demonstrated a perfect combination of humor and emotions. The main character in "The taste of others" is an over-confident, married factory owner (Bacris, in the picture below) who has to take English lessons to present himself better in business meetings. His teacher is a theatre actress (Anne Alvaro) whom he gradually falls in love with. In her company, and her intellectual-bohemian friends' company, he feels ignorant and incompetent for the first time in his life. It's a beautiful story, and both characters – the factory owner and the actress – go through funny, surprising and touching metamorphosis.

Jean-Pierre Bacri, to my opinion, is one of the strongest comedians of the past two decades. And what's so fascinating about him is that he co-writes his parts – which means he truly enjoys playing either the loser ("The taste of others", "Let's talk about the rain") or the obnoxious guy ("Same old song", "Look at Me"). I only recently found out that Agnès Jaoui and Jean-Pierre Bacri are married. This revelation filled with me with joy, that was only replaced a couple of weeks later with the deep disappointment of finding out that they'd already separated. In any case, I thought it's extremely funny that she directs her husband playing such unflattering characters. It's also interesting that they always co-star in their films, but never as a couple - always as other actors' partners.

I watched "Let's talk about the rain" (their latest collaboration) for the first time a few days ago, for the purpose of writing this post – and was quite disappointed. There are many funny/cute moments, but the story itself is much weaker than it was in "The taste of others" and in "Look at Me". Disappointed as I was, I'm still anxious to watch Jaoui's future films.

In this scene from "The taste of others", the main character reads to his English teacher an exercise he wrote, in which he confesses for the first time about his feelings for her. She doesn't like him at all, there for she chooses to ignore the gesture, and go over his grammar mistakes.

And here is a scene from "Extras". In each episode there's a guest star, playing supposedly as himself, but actually displaying an ugly/mean/egocentric/perverted grotesque character that makes fun of show biz people. In this episode it's Clive Owen, who's being very nasty towards female extra Maggie.


Amanda said...

Hi Yaeli,
This is Amanda in Vancouver. I love Agnès Jaoui and Jean-Pierre Bacri too. I've seen their film "Comme une image" many many times. And I love the fact that Jaoui is an amzaing singer as well as an actress and filmmaker. But I'm so sad to read in your post that they aren't together anymore. What a pity!
I just found you blog today and I'm going to read a bit more. Thanks for writing your thoughts about these two inspiring and creative people (Bacri and Jaoui).

Yaeli said...

Thanks Amanda, it's nice to meet fellow Jaoui/Bacri fans!

Actually, Jaoui and Bacri's wikipedia pages say they are married, while several sources from 2008 say they are no longer together, and that she had adopted two Brazilian children on her own. Since they're not a common gossip target, it's hard to know exactly...

LenKa said...

Yaeli, BRAVO!

I was looking for Jaoui-Bacri info, and found your blog. I'll definitely read it through:)

I adore French cinema and the magic duo you devoted the - great - post to. Just like previous commentator said, I seen "The taste of others" and "Look at me/ Like an image" many-many times. (To my huge shame, I don't know French, being in love with the French cinema... Good reason to study it;))

Sad to read in your comment, that the couple fell apart (?).