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Agnès Jaoui, Comme une image / Look at me

When recording Zep II, the young Jimmy Page was experimenting with different recording methods; one technique he used on Whole Lotta Love was to mike the guitar amp from a distance rather than up close as is the norm. You’ve got to turn the amp up louder to get the same levels, but he also noticed you get a fatter, fuller sound. In like manner, though this will be somewhat discounted by the technical gaps in my memory, I wonder if criticism and reviews come out different if they’re written a week or more after the original viewing/experience. Certainly, the peaks and valleys of impressions should be more defined; whatever’s worth truly remembering should still be there and the rest just dribbled away. Which of course is detrimental to those inclined to loving fine detail. But something I’m starting to think more and more is that the detail is integral to mood and not always consciously absorbed/observed; and that mood is essential to how we remember the bigger bits and streams of culture. Which of course begs the question of a bad initial mood dampening the effect of a work which might (in other circumstances) transcend petty predispositions; or which demands that reviewers in all walks of write be even, balanced and emotionally calm and consistent people, which is an insulting waste of speculation when your competition’s an autocue hound like Richard Wilkins. Ultimately, the purpose and value of art is to engage. And in the best works, to generate an experience that stays with you. An historical trace of artistic stayers would be pretty similar to the accepted canon of greatness and talent. Just as there’s a lot to be said about critical passion and the heat of thought’s immediacy in getting a review down, there’s also significant value in considering works from a distance, both temporal and spatial and or contextual. So then. I mean to talk about Agnès Jaoui’s film. I saw it almost two weeks ago. Jaoui is a rare specimen of French female actor-directors: she isn’t as intense as Isabel Huppert but is more attractive, acting-wise. Hers is a clear talent immediately readable whilst retaining a distinct femininity; youthful, subtle in its cares, natural in its movements. It’s not a talent measured by intensity but thoughtful grace and naturalism in the moment. I’m writing it up, of course; and there’s something to be said for directors acting in their films, especially those that know and identify deeply with the character, especially as the focus around which others base their performance. (Jaoui has an amazing vocal talent; her role is customised to suit). But it’s a mature form of charming which I found wholly agreeable. At times bristling with crisp wit and well-edited comedy, the film is a great character vehicle. Not all the leads excel, but the arrogant father figure (Jean-Pierre Bacri) was played to a razor’s edge precision (husband and wife team alert: a reprisal of his role in Le Goût des Autres, also by and with Jaoui). The father whose reputation and fame cause others to dance with nimble adulation and sycophantry. The daughter desperate for the smallest scrap of recognition in the face of a rejection of the profoundest regularity. The house in the country where it all unfurls; relationships unwinding and reintegrating into other intrigues; the nagging undercurrents of failure and ambition’s insecurity (backdropped by sheer parental and unspoken jealousy). Emotionally even and balanced by pace, you almost completely lose the sense of a mediated, constructed experience. I want that more and more: to lose the sense of experiencing cinema, to immerse myself. And as always with French films, it’s mostly about writers — my theory being that the only place one really sees writers represented is on screen (them paper bios and interviews just don’t cut it in terms of representative art and power). Every second or third French film of late has involved or resolved a particular question of writers, or, more generally, auteurs. Which is why it’s high time to make a nicely bland doco-film about the real slog and visual ennui of the writing process. The little making-of doco on the DVD was also illuminating, one of the better ones yet. To see shots made and developed under the most natural, gentle and contributive atmosphere had me thinking of Eastwood. None of that poncy French faux-intellectual storm und drang, no mealy theoretic or abstrusions; just plain, simple drama. The work of precision built into every scene. The painting of grass to match the season. The in-car shot whose punctuation is crucial. The nearness of love and resentment. The small and intrusive rudenesses of the world (mobiles, taxi drivers). The shifts of mood and music (from Schubert to TuPac). The director as guide, conduit and fine-tuner. Proof that subtlety behind the screen (backed by natural talent) equates with subtlety and grace on screen.

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Alternatively, read about it at: The Slow Review or the long blog. Or even Nurture Health

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