Romance is bittersweet in 'The Taste of Others'
By Nicole McEwan
"Life," wrote John Lennon, "is what happens to you when you're busy making other plans." It's a phrase that comes to mind while watching The Taste of Others, the wry and bittersweet directorial debut of French actress Agnès Jaoui. Co-written with her husband, Jean-Pierre Bacri (who also plays the lead), the film examines, among other things, the delicate and inexplicable nature of attraction between men and women and the way group dynamics have the power to unite or divide would-be-lovers.
Castella is a highly successful self-made man about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime. It has nothing to do with business, doesn't involve his family, and requires skills he simply does not possess. He is about to discover the transformative power of art, and there's not a damn thing anyone can do about it.
It's a midlife crisis all right. But Castella's awakening has little to do with ego and less to do with hot cars and hotter nymphets. In American Beauty, Lester Burnhem's midlife catharsis was about cashing out of the corporate lifestyle. His rebellion meant going back to his free-thinking roots and rediscovering his true self. In Taste, Castella's been true to himself all along--which makes his metamorphosis all the more compelling.
What turns this boorish businessman around? Love, of course. A love unlike anything he shares with his wife, who lavishes more affection on her pampered pooch than on her husband. Castella's muse comes in the form of a middle-aged actress.
Clara (Anne Alvaro) is everything he is not. Castella's chief source of pleasure has been earning money. Clara's is creating art and the pursuit of an intellectual life. When he spots her in the midst of a theater performance (one he did not want to attend), he is instantly shaken. To the amazement of his friends and family, he begins pursuing her.
Here is where Jaoui's comedy of manners starts turning expectations upside down. If the film has a message, it's a simple one. Nothing is really as it seems. The trick is being open to discovering what lies beneath. There's an endless stream of faux pas that make him the butt of every in-joke within Clara's insular and sophisticated crowd. But the bohemians Castello is trying to befriend are anything but innocent. While laughing at him behind his back, they are more than eager to let him pick up the tab.
Meanwhile, Castello's bodyguard and driver become simultaneously involved with an independent-minded barmaid (played by Jaoui). Though not separated by class, the driver judges his lover on other, equally punitive grounds. Soon the bar becomes a merry-go-round of lovers--a sort of Rules of the Game redux, albeit in a minor key.
Mainly plotless, the film's strength lies in its memorable characters and keen insight into the intricacies of human nature. There's a certain hilarity in Castella's fearless pursuit of his polar opposite. Watching Jaoui's charming slice-of-lifer you just can't help but give him points for trying.
'The Taste of Others' opens Friday, April 27, at Rialto Cinemas Lakeside, 550 Summerfield Road, Santa Rosa. For details, see or call 707/525-4840.
From the April 26-May 2, 2001 issue of the Northern California Bohemian.