Parlez-moi de la Pluie

Breaking Down Barriers

September 23, 2008By Paris UpdateFilm

After the glorious Le Goût des Autres and the disappointing Comme une Image, I waited with nervous anticipation for the opening of Parlez-moi de la Pluie (Let It Rain is the less poetic official English title), Agnès Jaoui’s third film co-written with and co-starring Jean-Pierre Bacri.

Jaoui plays the part of Agnès Villanova, a well-known feminist writer who has decided to launch a political career by traveling to her native Lubéron in the south of France for a political rally during an atypically rainy summer.

While she is there, she visits the family home, where her younger sister (played by Pascale Arbillot), who still harbors resentments about the way their recently deceased mother favored her older, more ambitious sister, is staying with her husband and children. A local journalist, Michel Ronsard (Bacri), and his sidekick, Karim (Jamel Debbouze), a hotel night porter, decide to take the opportunity to make a documentary about Agnès, the only well-known person with whom they have ever had contact. The movie is punctuated by the amateurish attempts at filmmaking of Michel (whose only claim to fame is a previous documentary on bullfighting filmed “from the bull’s perspective”) and Karim.

As one might expect from Jaoui and Bacri, the dialogue is sparkling and witty. An extraordinary number of different strands are deftly woven together, even though some minor characters, such as Karim’s wife and Agnès’s partner, inevitably remain underdeveloped.

Bacri in particular lights up the screen with his charm and comic timing. Although his part does not allow him to give as nuanced a performance as he did in Le Goût des Autres, he still manages to elicit pathos without ever being mawkish in his relationship with his son, who chooses to go away with a friend during his vacation rather than spend it following his father’s documentary-making exploits.

While Jaoui and Bacri, who are real-life partners, seem to enjoy playing roles in which they are not romantically linked, the scenes with the two of them together are frequently the most successful. One moment in particular, when the two are studying the activities of an ant on the ground while they wait for Karim to arrive, is both hilarious and poignant. Other scenes, set in the deepest countryside, come uncomfortably close to the rather less-subtle charms of the film Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis, but even they are saved by the excellent performances by the protagonists.

Jaoui and Bacri prefer to write screenplays that are issue-driven, which can have varying success. Whereas the study of people’s snobbery and prejudices was deftly and movingly handled in Le Goût des Autres, Comme une Image seemed to amount to little more than the message that fat girls have feelings, too. In Parlez-moi de la Pluie, the discussions about feminism and racism lack subtlety at times, and it perhaps reflects negatively on modern French society that filmmakers still feel the need to be didactic about such issues.

Much of the film revolves around breaking down barriers of expectation and prejudice, so it is somewhat disappointing that the film ends rather too neatly and conventionally for my liking. I’d gladly take just two minutes of the excellent screenplay and Bacri’s brilliance, however, over the interminable hours of cinematic tosh that seems to be churned out all too frequently these days (mini-rant now over!).


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