The Taste Of Others

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The Taste Of Others

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There's no way to describe Agnès Jaoui's The Taste Of Others without making it sound like countless other French character studies that follow the intricately woven affairs of adults from different well-defined social strata. Yet through this familiar template, Jaoui (working with husband, co-star, and writing partner Jean-Pierre Bacri) delves into messy, complicated lives in a way that's anything but formulaic, largely avoiding the temptations of simple moralizing and pat resolutions. Though somewhat diminished in the translation, the double-meaning title describes other people's tastes in art and décor, as well as the more mysterious forces that govern the rules of attraction. At the center of the film's interconnected relationships, Bacri adds innumerable shadings to his character, a wealthy, middle-aged businessman who initially comes across like a boorish ignoramus, but proves not so easy to peg. Trapped in a lifeless marriage to an interior decorator (Christiane Millet) who values her dog over the humans it bites, Bacri is dragged against his will to a production of Jean Racine's Bérénice, only to be moved beyond words by Anne Alvaro's performance in the lead role. As it happens, he had just fired Alvaro as a private English teacher earlier that afternoon (she was not "fun" enough), but seeing her transformed on stage strikes a chord, and his helpless desire for her leads him improbably into the Paris art world. Meanwhile, Bacri's blue-collar bodyguard and chauffeur compete for the affections of Jaoui, a part-time bartender who supplements her income by selling dope. Reportedly inspired by Woody Allen, The Taste Of Others closely resembles Hannah And Her Sisters in its wry and sophisticated take on older adults attracted by a youthful spark, with Bacri playing a less cultured variation on Michael Caine and Max von Sydow's characters. Beyond his Philistine opinions—cruelly exposed by Alvaro's friends, who mock him by declaring Ibsen a great author of comedies—Bacri's response to art seems touchingly genuine and unpretentious, and it extends to his human relationships, too. His surprising depth of character has the effect of diminishing the other subplots, which are still sharply drawn, if not nearly so memorable in comparison. Measured, precise, and never overreaching, The Taste Of Others adds up to nothing more or less than the sum of its astute observations.

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