Director: Agnes Jaoui
Writers: Jean-Pierre & Agnes Jaoui
Producers: Christian Berard & Charles Gassot
Starring: Anne Alvaro, Jean-Pierre Bacri, Alain Chabat, Agnes Jaoui, Gerard Lanvin, and Christiane Millet et al.
Toi et Moi: The Taste of Others
I still do not know why I included the word “system” as an option for Week 21 of Film Phonics. A title search on IMDB yielded many television episodes with the word in the name, but few films that I could access. Thus, I had to go with the fifth choice, which was technically the word “other.” The first film that came to mind was “The Others” (Alejandro Amenabar, 2001), which I had seen in the theatre. A walk through the Foreign section of Blockbuster produced something French: “The Taste of Others” (Agnes Jaoui, 2000).
Also known as “Le Gout des Autres,” Jaoui’s film follows businessman Castella (Jean-Pierre Bacri) and his wife Angelique (Christiane Millet) as they try to enrich their lives. English lessons with a theatre actress named Clara (Anna Alvaro) inspires Castella to appreciate and experience art as something more than a commodity. Angelique yearns to be her sister-in-law’s interior decorator, though the film suggests her concern for the well-being of animals far surpasses her eye for home aesthetics. Interlaced with this storyline are threads concerning Castella’s chauffeur Bruno (Alain Chabat) and the bodyguard Franck (Gerard Lanvin) as well as a pot-selling bartender named Manie (Agnes Jaoui).
“The Taste of Others” is presented as a quirky, slice-of-life narrative, and it never crossed my mind whether or not I cared about or even “liked” the people on screen. The film’s co-stars and co-creators have put together a subdued comedy that thrives on the opposition between the ordinary and the bizarre, which results in a sort of humor in banality. The chauffeur and bodyguard embody this relationship. Their interactions emulate Rosencrantz and Guildenstern telling the story of “Hamlet.”
Jaoui’s tale may not include a brooding prince, but the main character’s journey in discovering art and its power articulates the film’s themes: opposites merging. Specifically, the breaking down and melding together of dichotomies pivots around “art.” High art vs. low art. Artist vs. consumer. Just as his wife yearns to advance in her decorating career, Castella wishes to become more than a passive admirer and buyer of art. By hanging around Clara and her artist friends, he tries to move to the next level of membership, but he cannot do it because he is not one of them. Immersing himself in the knowledge doesn’t work either because Castella does not read.
Nearly the inverse of Masayuki Suo’s 1996 comedy “Shall We Dance?”, Jaoui’s film works towards reconciling the polarities it presents, sometimes at the characters’ expense, but mostly to their benefit. It occasionally slows in pacing, but “The Taste of Others” succeeds as cinema that is culturally critical without the guilt-trip.