Look at Me (12a)

Jan 25, 2006
Cranbrook Film Society

Someone once said that psychotherapy was a science of scepticism leading to disillusionment. And Freud was famously pessimistic about humanity’s chances. Agnes Jaoui, the creative heart of this film, is the daughter of a psychotherapist and has been in analysis herself and it shows in the film. Agnes’ character, the singing teacher Sylvie, often wears a wry expression a little disappointed a little bemused but not ever surprised even by her own venal acts of selfishness. Comme une image is a comedy but it is of a rather bitter variety, stripping away comforting illusions of selflessness in our attitudes. Actions in Comme Une Image are as Freud would have said ‘overdetermined’, the apparent motivation masking another probably less attractive one. The characters are constantly projecting on to others their own guilt and anger and apparently put upon characters are complicit in their own dependency.

Comme une image is Agnes Jaoui’s second film as a director. Her first, ‘The Taste of Others’, was an international hit and won her an Oscar nomination for best foreign film. Comme une Image itself won the best screenplay award at Cannes in 2003. Both films were written with her partner, Jean Pierre Bacri. Jean Pierre plays the self-absorbed writer and publisher, Etienne Casard. Part of the same world of the arty intelligentsia in Paris Etienne and Sylvie come into contact through Sylvie’s teaching of Etienne’s daughter, the rather unfortunately named Lolita . In this world egos are both enormous and fragile. Highly successful and with a profile in the media, Etienne’s ego indeed has grown to hot air balloon proportions obscuring other people like his wife and daughter completely. Wishing to promote her self pitying but maybe talented husband Sylvie is not above a venal change of attitude when she realises helping Lolita may lead her to Etienne and his influence.

Addressing the possible dangers of family was something Agnes set out deliberately to do. “I’ve also wanted to treat the father-daughter theme for a long time. Some terrible things happen in families, and I’m talking about daily violence, not things like paedophilia or that kind of abuse.”

Bacri plays the tyrannical father superbly. He “was inspired by a mix of domestic tyrants we’ve known”, Jaoui says, “Some are too hateful and others are too charming and seductive. So we had to find to find something in between – a character who makes people laugh and then realise this guy is a nightmare”

The film is insightful too about the corrosive effect of the media and celebrity, especially in relation to women’s view of themselves, as if the media is relentlessly gazing back critically at women and finding them lacking.

Jaoui admits “There is a lot of me in Lolita”, the film’s central character. “I don’t know a single woman who likes her body and doesn’t become completely obsessed with the perception others have of her.”

Agns Jaoui | France/Italy | 2004 | 110 minutes | 12a