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'Taste of Others': Where the Chichi Meets the Shabby

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 29, 2001

   


    'The Taste of Others' A few of the French friends in "A Taste of Others." (Miramax Films)
"The Taste of Others," a worldly-wise, compassionate and charmingly acted Gallic comedy, focuses on the not-so-subtle aesthetic choices that not only separate us from one another but wither our potential for personal growth and regeneration. The French like to shrug and say "To each his own," but the movie suggests that a certain percentage of people are simply never going to see a slug and think escargot. But that doesn't mean they can't find love among the tasteful.

Castella (Jean-Pierre Bacri), a successful industrialist, has long since lost interest in his business and his wife, Angelique (Christiane Millet), an interior decorator who has smothered their house in chintz. The dorky Castella looks like an alien in the lavishly feminine surroundings, but he has come to accept his half-full glass. Then one night Angelique drags him to a performance of Racine's "Berenice."

He folds his arms over his chest and squirms in his seat when, to his surprise, he becomes overwhelmed by the leading lady's compelling performance. He is so infatuated by the actress that he returns the next night and goes backstage to stammer out his words of praise. Clara (Anne Alvaro), fresh from her queenly role, couldn't care less about this balding, badly dressed Neanderthal's opinion.

As it happens, Castella decides to learn English before negotiating an important deal, and Clara, to his joy, turns out to be his teacher. In a rather pathetic effort to win her approval, he horns in on her circle of arty friends and even buys a painting from one, takes it home and hangs it on the wall. His wife can't bear the sight of the abstract piece, clearly a symbol of his midlife crisis and of the growing gap between their sensibilities.

Agnes Jaoui, an actress making her directorial debut in this gabby romantic ensemble, also plays the movie's juiciest female role: Manie, a free-spirited bartender who becomes involved first with Angelique's chauffeur and then with Castella's hunky bodyguard.

Their story effectively mirrors that of Castella, Angelique and Clara, though it turns noirish and doesn't quite mesh with the rest of the movie.

Bacri, the director's husband and co-writer, brings pathos to his performance, but his character is not one to be pitied but rather admired. His leading lady, Alvaro, arches her elegant brow and widens her eyes, and that says it all. Above all else, they connect with the dork in all of us. Everybody wants to belong.

Though its attitudes are decidedly French, this intelligent film goes a long way toward explaining America's obsession with Martha Stewart Living, fake designer labels and TV talk show makeovers.

"The Taste of Others" (112 minutes, in French with subtitles at Visions Cinema) is unrated.

 

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