Writer-actress Agnes Jaoui’s directorial debut is a deliciously funny and insightful comedy about people’s varied tastes and perceptions, especially perceptions of other people. The intricately criss-crossed plot of The Taste of Others centers on a wealthy manufacturer (just what he manufactures is never made clear and it hardly matters), Castella (Jean-Pierre Bacri, who also co-authored the screenplay), whose success at business doesn’t translate into any sense of personal satisfaction. (In many respects, he seems to deliberately evoke the wealthy industrialist of Rene Clair’s classic A Nous la Liberte.) His interior decorator wife, Angelique (Christiane Millet), controls every aspect of his life — from the appalling frou-frou design of their home to what he should eat and how he spends his evenings — and is much more capable of relating to her dog (a vicious little horror with the improbable name of Flucky) and animals in general than her husband or most of humankind. (When late in the film she expresses her disgust with the realities of life, Castella’s driver, Bruno [Alain Chabat], suggests she go live in Disneyland.) Dissatisfied with his life, but not wholly conscious of the fact, things change dramatically when Angelique forces him to attend a play and he finds himself fascinated by the actress, Clara (Anne Alvaro) — a woman he had previously dismissed from her moonlighting job of teaching English when she had no “fun” method to instruct him in the language. Entranced both with Clara and the play in which she’s appearing, Castella opts to take English lessons from her. In the process, he aligns himself with her circle of friends. Clara considers him a boorish annoyance. Her friends at first consider him a figure to poke fun at. Things change when he attends a one-man show of paintings done by a member of her circle and he not only buys one of the paintings, but becomes interested in the artist’s work to the extent of commissioning a mural for the front of his factory. The impact here is two-fold: The intrusion of the painting into his wife’s “perfectly” decorated world is what finally causes a rift between them, and Clara thinks her friends are taking advantage of him (it never occurs to her that he might actually like the paintings). Intertwined with this central plot are the stories of Castella’s driver and his bodyguard Moreno (Gerard Lanvin), and their involvement with waitress Manie (played by Jaoui) — who is also Clara’s hashish supplier. All of the involvements interconnect. Each somehow impacts the other. And amazingly, Jaoui manages to keep things moving in a bright, engaging manner that is never confusing, despite the intricacy of it all. What makes this work so completely is the inherent reality of the main characters, the believability of their situations and the fact that Jaoui and Bacri do not opt for easy answers. Indeed, no clear-cut answers are supplied by the film and many subtextural aspects are allowed to exist without being examined in the least — much as often occurs in life. For example, the film makes it clear that the relationship between Moreno and Bruno is far deeper and more fulfilling than either’s relationship with Manie, but it chooses not to comment on this or its implications. There’s scarcely a false note in the film (the character of Angelique may be just slightly too shallow to be true), which is impeccably photographed and directed in an unusual (for an essentially intimate film) yet intelligent use of wide-screen. The Taste of Others is by turns funny, touching and thought-provoking. It very much deserves to be seen by the widest possible audience. And here’s hoping that it’s merely the springboard for a fruitful career for Jaoui as a filmmaker.
– reviewed by Ken Hanke