A Modern Fairytale
Lacking in Adventure
Jean-Pierre Bacri and Agnès Jaoui in “Au Bout du Conte.”
Ever since being blown away by the warmth, humor and humanity of Le Goût des Autres (2000), I must admit to approaching each new film co-written by and starring Agnès Jaoui and Jean-Pierre Bacri with excited anticipation. Each subsequent movie has proved somewhat disappointing, however. While Comme une Image (2004) revolved around the trite and ever-so-condescending message that overweight people have feelings, too, Parlez-moi de la Pluie (2008), for all its witty dialogue and moving moments, was essentially forgettable. Would the latest offering, Au Bout du Conte, reanimate my enthusiasm for the Jaoui/Bacri partnership (since 2012 only a creative partnership and no longer a personal one)?
As the title indicates, Au Bout du Conte involves fairytales, providing updated, highly stylized versions of well-known tales like “Cinderella,” “Snow White” and “Little Red Riding Hood,” but the film also extends its reach to consider the failure of relationships and the nature of religious belief and superstition.
Jaoui, playing Marianne, an unsuccessful actress who makes ends meet by staging fairytale re-enactments for children, and Bacri, as Pierre, a melancholic driving-school instructor, surround themselves with a wealth of young and old acting talent. Most notable are Agathe Bonitzer as Laura, the poor little rich girl, and Arthur Dupont as Sandro, a talented but cash-strapped Prince Charming. Singer Benjamin Biolay appears as a rather wooden Big Bad Wolf figure.
As always with Jaoui and Bacri, the dialogue sparkles, and there are many nice touches, not least the reversal of some of the gender stereotypes that punctuate traditional fairytales: in this version, it is Prince Charming, not Cinderella, who loses his slipper at the ball, and Sleeping Beauty is the one to kiss her prince, not the other way round. Also, the momentum of the movie is maintained by the uncertainty surrounding a medium’s prediction that the notoriously skeptical Pierre will die on March 14 of that year (this conceit was made all the more piquant for me by the fact that I was actually watching the film on March 14).
Bacri, as always, is superb, alternately hilarious and moving: the scene in which he breaks down in front of his son, whom he has previously neglected, is particularly touching.
So why, given all these wonderful elements, did I leave the cinema feeling dissatisfied at the end of the tale? Perhaps it was because the blending of magic realism with a wide range of essentially one-dimensional characters made it difficult to empathize fully with or believe in any of them. Jaoui and Bacri’s vision of modern society is benevolent but somehow not adventurous enough. I continue to await a true return to form.
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