Sunday, June 13, 2010

LET IT RAIN opens, Jaoui & Bacri score again; interview with the director

I think we look to the films of Agnès Jaoui -- The Taste of Others, Look at Me, and now LET IT RAIN (Parlez-moi de la pluie) -- for a kind of confirmation: the suggestion that life, however harried and bizarre, is full of marvelous little things, moments sad or sweet but often funny that quietly resonate.  There are plenty of these in this writer/director/
actress' new film, and they tumble, as usual, out of the behavior of her characters.  The husband in bed at the end of the day, feeling abandoned because his wife is reading; the French-Algerian young man who has decided to make a documentary and now must endure round-after-round of eyebrow-raising from the "French"; there's even a scene of characters getting high on pot that manages, against all odds, to break new ground.

Less apparently satiric than The Taste of Others, and less dark than Look at Me, Let It Rain tracks a would-be politician (played with relish and strength by Jaoui, shown at right); her current squeeze, the ever-affecting Frédéric Pierrot (below, right); her sister and that "abandoned" hubby; the documentary men, played by the singularly delightful Jamel Debbouze (shown at right, two photos down) and Ms Jaoui's real-life significant-other Jean- 
Pierre Bacri (shown at left, two photos down); the housekeeper of the family (also the Debbouze character's mother), and a handful more of  real but quirky people who bounce in and out of the situation -- which grows funnier, richer and quite a bit more complex as things progress.

Ms Jaoui likes to thrust us into the middle of the situation and let us find our bearings as we can, so it takes awhile for her movie to coalesce. But so real and well-limned seem the characters on view that most art-film audiences are likely to hang on and slowly-but-happily rise to the occasion that the movie-maker presents.  Along the way, we get some insight into French politics, family, farming, the immigration/"other" situation and of course lessons in amour.  One of the best of many good scenes takes place at the home of brother farmers who provide food for tummy and thought for our would-be politician and her film-making pair.

Let It Rain, from IFC Films, opens Friday, June 18, in New York City at  the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas and the Angelika Film Center, followed by a limited national rollout over the weeks to come.

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Our interview with Agnès Jaoui, as well as the screening of her new film, was overseen by Sophie Gluck & Associates -- one of New York City's premiere PR agencies for the handling of foreign films (and their filmmakers). We met Ms Jaoui one recent late spring afternoon at Manhattan's very contemporary Cooper Square Hotel, where the actress/writer/director looked radiant, even at the end of a long day of press interviews ("She gets better as the day goes on," noted her translator -- whom Ms Jaoui barely needed.) In the following, TrustMovies is shown in boldface, with Jaoui in standard type:

First off: Will you state your name aloud for me?

Agnès Jaoui.

(For readers who care about propriety, let’s tackle actually speaking the name properly: Agnès is pronounced Ahn-yes and Jaoui is pronounced Zhow-ee: Combine the “Ja” of the French name Jacques -- as in Cousteau -- with the “owie” of uh, well, “ zowie!” then place the accent on the last syllable. Go ahead, try it: We’ve got to show those French that we can master their pronunciation…)

I liked this film very much, but then I have liked all of the three films you’ve directed. I’ve even liked films that you’ve starred in but have not directed: 24 Hours in a Woman’s Life and — my favorite, I think – The Role of Her Life.

Yes, I like that one!

It one was so much fun! What, for you, are the biggest differences between acting in your own films and in someone else’s movies?

Acting in another’s movie is like… just a holiday!

I believe that.

Oh, yes, it is a holiday. Sure, I could say that sometimes it is hard because sometimes you are cold, or you are too hot. Or sometime your partner is ugly or mean. But no, really, it is just a pleasure, a holiday. Especially because I can also now choose the parts I want -- because I have no more financial necessity. Yes, it is really easy, making another’s movie compared to playing in your own movie. The other big difference is when I am playing in these other movies, I know that my director, he desires me. I mean…

You mean he has “chosen” you?

Yes, that’s it.

Well, maybe he desires, you, too! Why not?

No! (She laughs)

We’d better not go there.

Yes, he chose me. That is the right word. When I write for myself, I choose the role for me. And also, we never write me an “Oscar” part. Because I would be ashamed to do that.

You mean in someone else’s movie – or in your own?

I mean in my own. To write that kind of role for me. I would feel ridiculous, you know?

And when you say Oscar, you mean a César Award?

Yes. And in films like The Role of Her Life or 24 Hours…, for example, I would never have written those for myself.

I see what you mean. Your films are more modest, it seems to me.

Ummm… yes.

What I liked about this latest film is how inclusive it seems and how kind you are to all your characters. You see their flaws, but you don’t punish them for these flaws. They do that for themselves -- and very well.  (She laughs and shakes her heads, yes.)

I also like how so much happens in the movie: politics, filmmaking, romance; one love affair begins, another ends. Yet it is all sort of buried, most of it, and threads in and out throughout the film. And nothing is pushed. This is one of the things you do very well.

Thank you. Thank you very much. We tried!

You succeeded. And I think this is why a lot of Americans who go to art films or foreign films appreciate yours because they are not pushed -- in the way Hollywood often pushes things. You also mention in the press material that you were more relaxed with this film.

Yes, that might be the only thing I have learned since my debut is that you don’t need to be too stressful. Nothing needs to be too strenuous. You can always do it again, if you must. But I have a tendency to always want to be a “good student.” To never…

Make mistakes?

Yes, make mistakes. To be late, to spend more money than I have. To… to…

(Her translator pipes up: "To follow the rules"?)

Yes, to follow the rules, and again, to be a good student.

So you will get an “A”.

Exactly! Which is good. Because I am responsible, after all. And now I learn a little bit to be more relaxed....

Well, accidents can sometimes be happy ones.

Yes. And there are always solutions. The important thing is to always have distance on things. But sometimes this is hard, due to the rhythm of the shooting.

Is it harder to have distance when you are watching yourself perform?

This is very strange: Yes and no. For example, my conception of myself is very different from that of Jean-Pierre’s or that of my editor. Sometimes when I am editing, I prefer me in one take, but others say no, you are better in that other one. Sometimes I listen to them, sometimes I listen to me. So all this forces you to be very humble. When you are just an actress, to be beautiful is very important. But when you are shooting your own movie, really, after awhile, you see yourself so much, so often that you begin to see yourself as just an object. This is a very strange distortion. You even dream about yourself in a different way. You are used to your own face. But going there, sometimes, you are just somebody else. And soon, most of the time in fact, you just don’t care anymore how you look.

It seems to me your character in this film, Agathe, would make a pretty good politician.

I agree, yes.

Particularly by the end, because I think she has learned and changed. And because she can change and adapt, I have more faith in her. She might do very well.

I agree completely with you! Yesterday, there was a journalist who was very young and she was French, and she told me that she thought that I, as a director, did not have a very good opinion of politicians. But I said no, not at all. I did show somebody who was not a professional politician, but I think she will become a very good politician as she learns to be more concerned for others. I have now met a lot of -- how do you say? -- militants, and some of them remind me of the 70s, in their monomaniacal view. They are obsessed and not able to listen because they are so focused on their own ideas. On the other hand I have admiration for them. Without them, a lot of things would not be possible. You need to be focused on all that. Again, nothing is completely white or black. This Agathe character, I think I like her much more than does my audience in general.

That’s good. You should like her, since you are playing her!

Yes. Because I understand her and I know a lot of this kind of women who fight. They have to be "hard" to succeed. But in being themselves, sometimes they are too hard.

I think women always have to be a little better, a little harder, pushier. Unless they are just so beautiful that they can get away with stuff. But then, that beauty can create its own problems.

Exactly.

From which director for whom you’ve worked did you learn the most (and by this I mean both what to do and what not to do).

What not to do, I will not say or mention names. But I have learned the most from Alain Renais.

What movies did you make with him?

Same Old Song and Smoking/No Smoking.

You know, I did not realize who you were when I saw those movies. But next time I watch them I will be aware! So from Alain Resnais you learned the most. That’s nice – because there is a lot to learn there!

There is a lot to learn from him. You know how you sometimes would think that the works you admire the most, that you would also love the author of these works. Then you discover that… that…

The author is not such a great person. Yeah, right!

Yes, in fact, an awful person -- even though the movie or theater piece or music is wonderful. It is some dream you have when you are young, and it is hard to renounce that dream. But here, in this case….

You can love both the work and the man who made it.

Yes, exactly.

That is lovely to hear!

Yes, it is wonderful. It was really good to meet somebody and finally think, this is possible! I was thinking, after awhile, that this does not exist. That you have to be méchant -- mean -- to succeed. Yes, you can do beautiful work but you have to be a son-of-a-bitch. It was very unpleasant for me. Then I met him! Also, he is working as a painter. And my best friend is also a painter, and I felt he is somebody so creative, so… always looking for inventions and I like that very much, too. Also the relationship of trust he creates with all his crew and especially with his actors is another example. So now, always, I try to create this same thing with actors, as other directors -- like Resnais --have done for me.

(Agnes begins to cough a bit and I ask if she needs some water. Instead she lights up a cigarette. I tell her she should not be smoking, and she laughs)

I don’t smoke that much. Very little. And I began a few years ago, at the same time when everybody else was stopping....

Why? Because you have always liked to be different?

No, not at all. Other reasons. It was very strange… (We don’t go there, but back to the film.)

I suspect that you do your own casting. You probably use a casting director, but you must also know whom you want.

I am an actress and so I go very often to cinema and to legitimate theater. I love to discover new people. I don’t like to work so often with famous actors.

Because they are more difficult?

Not at all. May be it is a little bit silly, but I think they are already there. They don’t need me. They have their career, their money. And I have so much admiration for theater actors. And I know some of them who have never had the possibility of being on the screen, so for this reason I like to use them. And also as a spectator, if I see a new actor whom I do not know, it is much easier to very quickly see them as the character they are playing. In two seconds! Whereas if I see Al Pacino, whose work I adore, still, he is Al Pacino, and it may take me one hour before I think, OK, he is the character.

Also I think it is a chance for a director or story teller to use someone new, as in the case of this film’s character, Mimouna (the actress Mimouna Hadji is shown below, left), the middle-eastern mother and maid of the house.

Oh, yes—that’s what I also wanted to ask you about. I love how you handle the question of, well, we would say, immigration. But this is not really immigration because the Algerians have been in France now for generations.

Ah, but it is still immigration!

Right. You handle this so well in making them a part of the family. And yet, not.

That is exactly the point.

Yes.

And Jamel Debbouze (shown below). I love him. He is so good. He was in that French war film, Days of Glory, right -- and in Angel A? He is really special. I’ve never seen anyone quite like him.

And he is even more special than that! Because what you don’t know is that he is a kind of stand-up comedian in France, with his own TV show -- a real hero of France. The French people adore him because he is so funny, so witty, really one of the most popular guys in France.

We get the signal that our time is up. So we thank Ms Jaoui (and her translator) and Sophie Gluck, and hightail it uptown to our next screening.

(All photos above are from Let It Rain, courtesy of IFC Films.)

2 comments:

Elena Kuzmina said...

I just adore Jaoui-Bacri films; thanks for the posting!

James van Maanen said...

And thank YOU for commenting, Elena!