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'Taste of Others, The'

Characters in 'Taste of Others' learn to see in a new light

Friday, April 13, 2001

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

Nothing great in the world has been accomplished without passion, saith the philosopher Hegel. And few things can make us act quite so ridiculously, saith the vast majority of Monty Python skits. Still, you might expect the French, who put the savvy in savoir-faire, to separate ardor from humiliation (their love for Jerry Lewis notwithstanding).

'The Taste Of Others'

RATING: Unrated; contains sexual situations and strong language.

STARRING: Anne Alvaro, Jean-Pierre Bacri.

DIRECTOR: Agnes Jaoui.



Beneath all that nonchalance, the Gauls -- at least, those responsible for the breezily enjoyable movie "The Taste of Others," a foreign-language Academy Award nominee now at the Regent Square Theater -- prove to be not so galling and just as capable of being puzzled by life's unexpected turns as the rest of us.

It begins with a businessman who appears headed for a midlife crisis. Castella (Jean-Pierre Bacri) looks dumpy and sounds grumpy on the ride home with his wife, Angelique (Christiane Millet), after a luncheon meeting. She reminds him the doctors say he can't have dessert. His hotshot business aide (Xavier de Guillebon) insists he must learn to speak English. And he is dismayed when Angelique tells him they're going to the theater tonight.

She wakes him up during the final act of Racine's tragedy "Berenice," just in time for a speech delivered with heartfelt urgency by the lead actress, Clara (Anna Alvaro). Her burst of emotion jolts him upright, especially when he realizes Clara is the woman sent to his office that afternoon to start teaching him English.

He attends Clara's play again -- this time, without Angelique. He goes backstage, meets her colleagues and insists on accompanying them to their after-show hangout, a nearby tavern. It is obvious that Castella is an infatuated philistine but he's buying the drinks and they earn theater salaries, so they indulge him. But Clara will endure only so much of him.

But, if I may twist the meaning of that other noted philosopher, the American known as Mr. T, we actually begin to pity the fool -- such is the delicacy of Bacri's performance.

Castella's yearning for artistic growth turns out to be sincere. So is his desire to escape the gilded trap he has built for himself, including Angelique, an interior decorator of appalling taste.

His discovery of an exciting new world reverberates into the lives of those around him. His rosy-eyed chauffeur, Deschamps (Alain Chabat), spends a lot of time waiting for Castella alongside the businessman's bodyguard, Moreno (Gerard Lanvin), a hard-eyed realist. The two men's opposite outlooks on life end up rubbing off on each other, especially after they each become involved with tavern waitress Manie (Agnes Jaoui, who makes her debut as a director on this film).

Clara's artistic friends Antoine (Wladimir Yordanoff) and Benoit (Raphael Defour) also find themselves unable entirely to pigeonhole Castella, even as they perceive they are making him their pigeon. Angelique has a moment of truth as well.

In the end, the characters all are shaken out of their complacency and assumptions regarding life, love and people as they sample the taste of others. Is that what Hegel meant by "the single circle ... gives rise to a wider circle"?

Bacri and Jaoui, who are married in real life, wrote and starred in Cedric Klapisch's film "Un Air de Famille," which played a few years ago in the Three Rivers Film Festival. That movie took on the sour personality of the squabbling family members at the center of the film.

"A Taste of Others" proves to be a much more forgiving and likable study of human foibles.

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