The Americanized title of Agnès Jaoui’s Parlez-moi De La Pluie doesn’t match up with a literal translation—“talk to me of the rain”—but marketers can’t be blamed for trying to infuse a hint of action into a movie that boils down to a series of tart conversations. Jaoui and her husband Jean-Pierre Bacri (with whom she traditionally co-writes and co-stars), specialize in barbed comedies of haute bourgeois manners; they wrote Smoking/No Smoking and Same Old Song for Alain Resnais before stepping out on their own with 2000’s The Taste Of Others. In Let It Rain, Jaoui plays a feminist author turned political dark horse thanks to France’s gender-parity laws, and Bacri is a brusque telejournalist hoping to trade up by making a documentary about her. The son of Jaoui’s family’s maid and an apprentice editor who learned his trade under Bacri, Jamel Debbouze (Amélie) connects the two, and outpaces them at nearly every step.
In addition to various romantic entanglements, most of the movie’s characters are distinguished by their lack of self-awareness. Although Bacri fancies himself a pro, he’s a dreadful interviewer, belligerent and inattentive, while Debbouze, putatively on board to learn the ropes, peppers Jaoui with incisive questions that Bacri accidentally on purpose forgets to record. Jaoui’s righteousness ends with her family; she charges her sister rent on their late mother’s house, to the extent that they can no longer pay Debbouze’s mother (Mimouna Hadji), in a chain of events whose consequences grow more harsh the further they recede from view.
In a sense, Let It Rain is pure template: moneyed French people, with a few representatives of the lower classes thrown in for balance’s sake, working out their kinks with talk and sex. But Jaoui and Bacri are ace practitioners of the form, as dramatists and as performers. The fact that they have few scenes together, and that there’s no hint of sexual chemistry in their onscreen relationship, allows them to guide the film from both sides of the camera; there’s rarely a moment when one or the other isn’t onscreen. Debbouze is best known as a comedian, but there’s an unexpected hardness and sorrow to his performance here. There’s not much left to chew on when the movie is over; when Resnais adapted Jaoui and Bacri’s scripts, he added a visual counter-narrative that’s absent from Jaoui’s more functional approach. But a passing delight is a delight all the same.