Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Agnès Jaoui: Actress, screenwriter, director, (and singer)

1/3 Tina Fey + 1/3 André Téchiné x 3/2 Chekhov = Jaoui

Agnès Jaoui
     Agnès Jaoui has acted professionally in French since her early twenties and has written, directed, and played parts in her own movies for the past dozen years.  I saw her first creation The Taste of Others at the Esquire in 2001.  I think
there were maybe two other people in the theater besides me (during a Friday matinee), which may be why her movies haven’t been shown locally since.  That, however, is a mistake and it shouldn’t stop potential viewers from catching up with her work on Netflix.

The Taste of Others

     Fortunately, there are the IFC and Sundance channels where Jauoui’s movies sometimes play.  I’ve caught both Look at Me and Let It Rain (although the French title actually translates as the more subtle and appropriate let’s talk about the rain) and they continue to reveal that she is a major talent.  Her most recent movie Au bout du conte (2012) hasn’t yet been shown locally.  She’s been compared to Woody Allen, but I don’t think it’s apt.  Instead, she’s warmer and more interested in the character complexities that intrigued Paul Mazursky.

Au bout du conte, Her Latest Movie
    Jaoui generally presents six to eight characters that initially might not have much connection.  It’s akin to hyperlink cinema, but the relationships are more apparent within about twenty minutes and that’s where the movies take off.  Assumptions that the viewers may have about the characters and the plot emerging from their interactions are usually not accurate.  Some of this is because of the attitudes or beliefs that the characters display about one another and these are sorely tested, resulting in a ninety-degree definition shift.  These aren’t laugh riot comedies; instead, they are droll and sometimes off-hand in a Gallic manner.

     The milieu is primarily middle-class with literate characters, some of them married or related to another or long-time friends, who aren’t as humane or talented or recognized as they’d like to be, in the tradition of Chekhov.  Like Téchiné, she mixes bourgeois comedy with darker, political themes, especially concerning empowerment for women, the economically more deprived, and people of different ethnicities.  I make it sound heavier than it is in either tone, which is actually insouciant, or execution that is understated.  

Agnès Jaoui and Husband Jean-Pierre Bacri
     Jean-Pierre Bacri, Jaoui’s husband and sometime co-screenwriter, has been cast in her movies and he has a saturnine, arrogant presence that’s both funny and poignant.  Jaoui is usually cast and she has the courage to play conflicted characters that are usually successful, but not always very thoughtful about others’ feelings at first.  In looks and rhythm, she reminds me as an actress of Tina Fey.

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