Once again, French cinema has produced an exemplary ensemble piece, with a script as warm, witty and insightful as the performances. In this case, it probably helped that the script was written by two of the stars, one of whom, Agnès Jaoui, is also making her directorial debut. Her acting background is evident in her direction, giving the cast the freedom to bring every last character to life with total conviction.
The film centres on Mr Castella, a rich but uneducated and uncultured businessman, played to perfection by her co-writer and long-term partner, Jean-Pierre Bacri. Between his intolerable wife, an officious English teacher and a tough business deal, life is less than satisfying. He needs passion and emotion and finds them unexpectedly on a reluctant trip to a local theatre to see some boring play or other. Giving a powerful performance in the lead role is his English teacher, Clara. From this moment, he develops a flattering obsession with her and her cultural tastes.
The story is littered with colourful supporting characters, including the over-confident bodyguard and the reserved chauffeur, who exchange views on life and love while they're waiting for their boss, and Jaoui's barmaid, who between being Clara's best friend and selling dope manages to find time to have relationships with both of them.
This subtle comedy of manners beautifully illustrates the problems of forging relationships across the class divide, with the twist that here, class seems to be defined by culture rather than wealth, with the rich man aspiring to be like his poor, artistic superiors.
"Le Goût Des Autres" is due out in cinemas on 25th May 2001.