Agnès Jaoui has fast established herself as one of France’s most important female directors. And her talent doesn’t stop at the director’s chair; Jaoui and husband Jean-Pierre Bacri write and star in the films too. Their first film The Taste Of Others received an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film and her second, Comme Une Image (Look At Me) – won Best Screenplay at Cannes this year.
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Here Agnès Jaoui and husband Jean-Pierre Bacri talk to LondonNet about their latest film, Comme Une Image.
Explain why you chose to make the movie about characters who are not particularly likeable?
A.J.: Our goal when we are writing is to make the characters as precise as possible, so you can understand them or identify with them. Each time we are writing I am unable to invent a character. We need two or three models. As we wanted to speak about the theme of power, from the point of view of the person who accepts power, it was very difficult to make nice people. What we noticed is that, when people have to deal with power, they are not very charming and rarely brave or heroic.
What is the reason for choosing the world of publishing as the backdrop for this movie and not the world of TV or cinema, both of which you also have personal experience of?
A.J.: Because our point of view – and in fact we failed – was not to criticise the milieu. If we had chosen cinema, everybody would have thought we were saying that cinema was a bullshit milieu. For us it was really only to describe the process of accepting power, taking the leadership. In fact, in the beginning, the Jean Pierre’s character [Etienne] was an architect, but then we decided to meet some architects and… [bored shrug]. It’s always a problem for us to choose the milieu.
J.P.B.: It was a very hard part of the work A.J. If I was writing about a worker I would feel a little bit strange to criticise them. Our point of view is about human beings, how we are a kind of contradiction. As I said earlier we don’t ‘invent’ characters, and as we are living in a bourgeois intellectual milieu, it’s easier to speak about what we know. An anti-Semitic joke is a Jewish joke told by a non-Jewish person, and I would have the same feeling writing about a milieu I’m not from.
Jean Pierre, was it challenging to play a less sympathetic character?
J.P.B.: What is difficult is when you are writing that part. Then you bring it to reality.
In the film, Etienne’s elder daughter Lolita meets a new man, recent immigrant Sebastien. He represents the film’s only character who rejects the trappings of fame and power. Is his status as newcomer an allegory for his virtue?>
A.J.: No. His character had a relationship with some people we met. These people were honest without an effort.
In one scene Etienne is alone with his younger daughter and is displayed as fragile yet incompetent as he stares bemused at the infant. Was that a difficult scene to write and act?
J.P.B.: We have no children, but we have eyes.
Is the film a drama or a comedy?
J.P.B.: As the life. In one day you can cry, in one day you can laugh. Life is a succession of black comedy and we like movies that talk about life.
What do you prefer, the writing, the directing or the acting?
A.J. and J.P.B: The writing.
J.P.B.: For me writing is a true pleasure as you can create something deeper.
Have you had approaches from Hollywood to remake your films?
A.J.: We’ve been asked for a long time to remake our movies, but we have always refused because we are not interested. When I was in Los Angeles for the Oscars – when The Taste Of Others was nominated – a lot of people asked me, but I refused.
J.P.B.: If you want to see our movies, you must see the French version!
Peter D. Clee