“Look at Me” is very French and very good.
Although every good film is a team creation, this one apparently owes a
huge debt to Agnes Jaoui who directed, co-wrote the screenplay with featured
actor Jean-Pierre Bacri, and acts – beautifully – one of the principal
Etienne Cassard (Jean-Pierre Bacri) is a French writer of best sellers, a
novelist with a mountainous ego. No
matter what unfolds around him, he thinks only, “what works for me?”
Etienne doesn’t seem to know or care whether the people who hang around
him are simply basking in his glow. Why
would you care, after all, if you are neither a giver nor a receiver, but an
island of self-absorption?
Etienne’s daughter, Lolita, bears several burdens.
The irony of her name is one; she is overweight, not especially
attractive, and completely unable to snag a genuine moment of her father’s
attention, much less his affection. Lolita
(Marilou Berry) loves to sing and is studying with Sylvia (Agnes Jaoui), a
singing teacher whose eager student bores her.
With one revealing expression Sylvia tells us she has already decided
that Lolita’s talent is average, her looks not helpful, her future nothing to
flutter the heart.
Sylvia goes home to husband Pierre (Laurent Grevill), a second level
writer who also bores her. When she
discovers that Lolita is the daughter of the famous novelist, Sylvia forces her
interest in the girl’s career in order to bring her dull husband – and
herself – into Etienne’s self-absorbed circle of friends.
From this point forward writer/director Jaoui uses every scene to explain
Lolita’s sadness at the absence of her father’s love or attention.
He leaves, callously unaware, at each important moment of time with his
daughter. As the characters bump
into each other for one reason or another, they trip over their own selfishness.
You might not want to be among them, but you will admire the actors’ skill in
creating them. The cast is uniformly adept at conveying innocence, kindness,
or outright unpleasantness.
Only one person might prove himself worthy.
The young Sebastian may or may not be pulled into Etienne’s orbit.
And then, perhaps, one more. As
Sylvia transcends her own selfish motives and sees the reality of her student,
she reaches for her own depth as a real teacher.
She gives us a magical moment when she sees the truth of the father and
the authenticity of the daughter.
Agnes Jaoui is marvelous as Sylvia, Marilou Berry excellent as Lolita, and Jean-Pierre Bacri contemptuously absorbed as Etienne, the father. Jaoui bounces everything off his difficult personality – the characters, the music, the whole of the movie. In addition to the rewards of fine acting, we are given the unusual pleasure not just of snippets of beautiful music, but of prolonged periods of choral singing by Lolita’s group and by the girl herself who uses her singing as a flag, waving it before her hardened father’s eyes to say “Look at me,” please.
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