'Let It Rain' sprinkles romantic quirks in understated fashion
Share with others:
The battle of the sexes, like any other military or metaphorical warfare, is waged heedless of the weather. Cloudbursts come at inopportune times, and when it rains, it pours in Agnes Jaoui's scintillating seriocomedy, "Parlez-moi de la pluie" -- loosely translated as "Let It Rain."
The writer-director is the star of the show, as well. Ms. Jaoui plays feminist politician Agathe Villanova, returning -- impatiently, in the middle of a campaign -- to her country home in southern France to help sister Florence (Pascale Arbillot) put their late mother's affairs in order. Stressed-out Flo lives on the estate with her needy husband and kids, attended by the family's faithful old Algerian housekeeper, Mimouna (Mimouna Hadji).
4 stars = Outstanding
- Starring: Agnes Jaoui, Jean-Pierre Bacri, Jamel Debbouze.
- Rating: R in nature for adult love themes.
Lying in wait is Mimouna's son Karim (Jamel Debbouze), a lowly hotel clerk, and his seedy "reporter" friend Michel (Jean-Pierre Bacri), who press Agathe into an interview for their dubious TV documentary on "successful women."
The real text is in the set of interactive romantic subtexts that unfold during the course of "the shoot" -- which drags on with fitful progress and lots of mistakes. Nobody seems very secure with his or her significant other, as evidenced by an early exchange between Agathe and her boyfriend, Antoine (Frederic Pierrot):
"What's the word for being slightly interested in someone, not "concern' but -- "
"Fellatio?" he offers.
Uh, no, actually, "solicitude" is the word she was looking for.
Bossy Agathe's sister, fragile Florence, is none too solicitous herself. By night, she wears a kind of coal miner's head-lamp to read by in bed, to the chagrin of hubby Stephane (Guillaume de Tonquedec). By day, she steals passionate moments with Michel the movie-maker-and-shaker.
The absurdly wonderful thing here is that -- just like real life -- no one regards himself as a "supporting actor." Everybody considers himself the major character, intensely self-absorbed with his or her own issues and desperate longings, all of which get respectful rather than parodic treatment from Ms. Jaoui.
The diminutive Mr. Debbouze ("Amelie") as Karim turns in a fine, bittersweet variation on his performance in Luc Besson's rom-com fable "Angel-A" (2005) as a foreign-born wimp and shrimp who, in the immortal neologism of George W. Bush, is misunderestimated. "I'm motivated," he protests, "I just lost my momentum." He regains it with the penetrating questions he puts to Agathe in their interviews.
His partner Michel, on the other hand, is underestimated for good reason. Much of the humor in this quirky comedy of middle-class manners derives from the ongoing ineptitude of Michel, a schlemiel-poseur of the Peter Boyle type, brilliantly played by Mr. Bacri (director Jaoui's writer-collaborator and ex-husband in real life). When Michel laments that his own father called him an idiot, we know that the father was right. Yet he's more than that, as we eventually discover when he and Agathe bond over a joint and an enthralling anthill -- one of the film's best scenes.
The Jaoui-Bacri duo's movies -- such as "The Taste of Others," a 2001 Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Film -- are invariably well-written explorations of neurotic relationships that touch on class, racism and sexism in a whimsical rather than polemical way. Some call Ms. Jaoui "the Gallic Woody Allen": She is Diane Keatonesque and does an excellent job of directing herself. Like Woody, she makes superb use of music (Schubert, Vivaldi, Paul Williams) to accessorize the moods.
It is no mean feat to get (and keep) us interested in a plethora of characters -- four couples, eight people -- none of them physically gorgeous in standard Hollywood terms, and with no heavy-duty sex scenes. She achieves it, instead, through the old-fashioned virtues of meticulous plotting, intelligent character development and expert ensemble acting by her cast.
You've got to love/hate the ubiquitous cell phones, the constant texting and interrupting of everything, even a cemetery visit, and the fact that the story is propelled by their conveyance of important (as well as gratuitous) bits of information. The structure of this film is as close to perfect as anything I've seen all year.
Can it be criticized for being, in the end, too cheerful? Not by me ... or anybody else who needs a little cheering up. "Let It Rain" is funny, serious, gentle, cynical -- and satisfying. I don't know why we should really care about these people and their foibles, but for some reason, we do. It reminds me of Truffaut and, oddly enough, of Truffaut's great hero, Hitchcock, who said, "Some people's films are slices of life. Mine are slices of cake."
Opens today at the Harris Theater, Downtown. In French with English subtitles.
First Published August 20, 2010 12:00 am