The Taste of Others Movie Review

In The Taste of Others, a wealthy suburban businessman named Castella gets infatuated with a theatrical actress and becomes a frequent visitor of her bohemian circle of friends. The premise might not be very original but the delicious twist of the story is that it is not so much about Castella's pursuit as it is about how different social strata are formed and how they intersect with one another.

Castella (Jean-Pierre Bacri) and his wife have to attend a local stage production of Bérénice, in which their daughter plays a small part. They don't care for the theatre and can't understand the verse, but, to Castella's own surprise, he finds himself unusually moved by a leading actress Clara. The charming point here is that Clara isn't a young aspiring theatrical diva but an aging, harried, and often unemployed actress from a small provincial theatre. Castella, however, doesn't see her that way: For him, she brings into his dispassionate routine the whiff of a free-spirited life including cozy, drunken late-night talks and vibrant gallery gatherings. Through happenstance, Castella's new business arrangement requires him to learn English, and Clara (Anne Alvaro) becomes his teacher.

Despite the fact that Clara's friends are contemptuous of Castella for his ignorance, plebian tastes, and crass jokes, the businessman shows up at every reception or theatrical premiere. His is not a vicious fellow, not by any stretch, and his homophobic remarks are devoid of malice -- he is simply too unimaginative to go beyond his usual milieu -- and as long as he is dancing on his toes, Clara is ferociously dismissive of his courtship. The film elegantly hints, however, at the fact that even a small reversal of fortune can bring up a philistine in the most uncompromising of artists.

The film doesn't shock the viewer in any way, but it is full of delightful, witty, and keen observations on human behavior, the social fiber of people's close circles, and those quiet, under-the-breath moments that capture the essence of people's tastes and choices. It also makes a curious observation of the mechanism that brings two people together and how impossible it is to explain the complexity of attraction between seemingly incongruent people.

Castella's wife, for example, with the ironic name Angelique (Christiane Millet), is an easily recognizable type of a rich bored housewife. An interior designer by profession, Angelique decorates her house to make it look like a flower shop, and she herself is always decked out in unbearably motley dresses. She is the film's emotional freak, oblivious to anything but her rabid little dog and a philosophy of the moral superiority of animals over humans.

The cast's regular bartender Manie (Agnes Jaoui, who also directed the film) is sleeping with both Castella's bodyguard Moreno (Gerard Lanvin) and the chauffeur Deschamps (Alain Chabat). She is accepted among the artists, for she is uncompromisingly independent and fearless, while Castella gets laughed at in his face. An interesting development takes place when Manie and Moreno discover that they perhaps stumble into a serious relationship: Moreno's morality doesn't allow him to accept Manie's selling drugs to supplement her income but does allow for his own brainless, painfully boring job.

Agnes Jaoui's directorial debut is shot in a plain, well-paced style: Nothing is rushed or crumpled and, besides following the story, there are always snippets of other people's life as background, helping you remember the larger tapestry of life. Also, the filmmaker uses the charming device of starting a scene in one place and, nonchalantly, ending it in another, giving the story a sense of both completeness and fragmentation at the same time.

The Taste of Others doesn't reach into the deeply-rooted causes of why people end up having one circle of friends and not another. It does show, however, that we tend to be reluctant to accept others into our established boundaries. This 112-minute long film has a light yet precious tinge of the great British writer William Somerset Maugham's wit and irony, but without his incisive and cynical attitude toward life.

Aka Le goût des autres.

Taste's good.

Comments

The Taste of Others Rating

" Excellent "

Rating: NR, 1999

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