THE TASTE MAKER
Byline: Chantal Goupil
PARIS — French actress Agnes Jaoui arrives for an interview at a Left Bank bistro and picks the most discreet corner of the restaurant. It’s a habit that will come in handy for a woman on the brink of international fame.
“The Taste of Others,” France’s most popular film last year, opens in New York on Friday. Jaoui directed it, starred in it and cowrote the screenplay with her companion, Jean-Pierre Bacri.
The film tells the story of an uncouth entrepreneur, played by Bacri, who falls for a second-rate actress who is also his English teacher. The entrepreneur attempts to enter her bohemian world, without success. Jaoui plays Manie, a free-spirited barmaid who earns money on the side dealing drugs. It is in her bar that the protagonists meet. “The Taste of Others” is a cautionary tale about characters and atmospheres that should never have collided.
“The idea of the movie came slowly, through indirect paths,” Jaoui explains. “At the beginning, we wanted to make a suspense movie, but we kept falling into cliches, stereotypes. We couldn’t make it into a personal movie. Then we started to think about themes that are closer to us, like drugs, money, revenge. We thought about prejudice, about the fact that, even if, today, social barriers seem less insurmountable than one or two centuries ago, it’s still complicated to belong to a group that is different from your own, to meet and love people who do not have the same cultural references.”
Born in 1964, Jaoui was a student of dramatic arts. A lack of fulfilling roles led her to begin creating them for herself, and by now she and Bacri have written a number of plays that have been taken to the screen. “Cuisine et Dependances” in 1992 and “Un air de Famille” in 1995 both won Moliere awards, and the screenplay “On Connait la Chanson” won a Cesar in 1998.
But “The Taste of Others,” Jaoui’s directorial debut, presented a new challenge.
“I was amazed by the load of work,” she explains, “20 hours a day, and the availability required of me during the nine months of the filmmaking.”
Clever and sparse dialog with an undercurrent of humor has become the trademark of the couple’s writing. But as an actress, Jaoui strives to give her characters tenderness and humanity, and those were the qualities she demanded of her fellow actors in “The Taste of Others.”
The film was screened last October during the New York Film Festival. Jaoui raves about the great English translation by Henri Behar and, not surprisingly, the enthusiastic response from the audiences. “The spectators’ reactions were as good as in France, so joyful,” she says.
“If one considers that America is the center of the world, which, unfortunately, is the truth, I have to admit that it is a real pleasure to be known there,” Jaoui adds. “I want the movie to have a very good opportunity to be seen, to find a public, wherever it is.”