The Taste of Others

 A friend of mine has this theory about couples: as long as the individuals pass the "look" test, the pair belong
together. That is, if they complement one another, the relationship can transcend any barrier. Something similar is
at the center of the new French comedy-drama
The Taste of Others, co-written and directed by Agnes Jaoui.

 The film opens by introducing the audience to several of the main characters. A wealthy, crass businessman
named Jean-Jacques Castella (Jean-Pierre Bacri, who also co-wrote the script) and his bubble-headed,
social-climbing wife (Christiane Millet) are enjoying a meal. Waiting for them are there lovelorn chauffeur
(Alain Chabat), who is pining for his girlfriend who is visiting America, and a professional bodyguard
(Gerard Lanvin), who attempts to offer sage counsel to the driver. The wife later drags her husband to the
heater, ostensibly to see his niece.

 During the performance, though, Castella undergoes a remarkable transformation: He falls in love with
Clara Devaux (Anne Alvaro), a fortyish spinster who happens to be the leading lady. It may appear as if
The Taste of Others will devolve into a cliched tale of a rich man pursuing a poor starving artist, but the
screenwriters capably expand the focus to encompass the idea of "class" in all its meanings. Castella and
Clara are from different social strata and she is less willing to be open-minded about allowing him into her world,
particularly after she is hired to teach him English for a business deal. Not one to be rebuffed, Castella lumbers
in like the proverbial bull in a china shop, appearing boorish by making homophobic remarks to a gay couple
or telling jokes of questionable taste at the dinner table.

 Running parallel to their story is the triangular relationship of the bodyguard, the chauffeur and a
free-spirited, sexually liberated bartender and part-time drug dealer named Manie (played by the director).
When the driver learns his girlfriend isn't returning from the States, he attempts to find comfort in the arms
of Manie. She's more comfortable passing time with the bodyguard, despite his disapproval of her secondary
line of work.

 Factor in a running gag about Mrs. Castella's attempt to superimpose her love of chintz on her
world-weary, poorer sister-in-law, and Bacri and Jaoui manage to achieve their stated goals of writing about
the social castes prevalent in contemporary times. Although less obvious here in America, the very same
elineations occur. The nouveau riche attempt to emulate Old Money while the artist remains on the fringes
of society. This universality to the story is what makes
The Taste of Others so enjoyable.

 Although this is her first time behind the camera, Jaoui demonstrates a remarkable skill for framing scenes.
She knows how to maintain the ebb and flow of a scene and when to cut away. Her capabilities with the actors
is also evident, with the cast uniformly delivering excellent performances.

 The Taste of Others plays as "dramatic comedy" and it demonstrates that, as in real life, reel life
may be both bitter and sweet, sometimes simultaneously.

                 Rating:                        B+
                 MPAA Rating:            NONE
© 2005 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.