There is something about Agnès Jaoui’s comedy of errors, Look at Me, that utterly delights me. The characters are not likeable, but their frustrations, their desires, their clumsy attempts at decency are sweetly human. Early on, a drunk young man collapses near Lolita, a 20-year-old singing student. Someone says that he’s probably cold, so Lolita puts her jacket on him before leaving. Lolita is not particularly kind, but, like all the characters in this film, knows what is right, even when she doesn’t do it.
I love the comedy that is born of the characters’ negotiations between their selfishness and their attempts at decency. It’s both hilarious and poignant.
Jaoui intentionally, I believe, makes the plot hard to follow in order to focus the viewer’s attention on how the characters interact. The film’s main theme is the imbalanced expectations we put on men and women. This is signalled in the first scene. Young, female, fat Lolita is in a cab. The driver is impatient and rude. When her father gets into the cab it takes him five seconds to set the driver straight. The scene closes with the driver politely saying, “Yes, sir.”
As the film continues, we notice how much is asked of women and how much men get away with. While men incessantly complain, women support them by taking the brunt of their unhappiness upon themselves.
Lolita’s fatness is, of course, a central and a painful running gag, the “image” of the French title that cannot be overlooked.
The only male character who escapes this dynamic and in fact reverses it is Sébastien, the young drunk man who falls in love with Lolita. Lolita is as unkind to him as her father is to her. The social commentary here is sharp: the Arab boy is lower on the food chain than the white French woman.
The music that permeates the film both diegetically and not elevates this human comedy to greatness. Young singer Lolita and her lovely choir colleagues, their teacher Sylvia, and Sébastien, who alone appreciates their music, rise together through music and performance above the perilous traffic of human interactions and in doing so bring the viewer with them.
Look at Me is available on DVD from various retailers. Follow Look at Me on the film’s website.
Giovanna Pompele is an academic in English and Women’s and Gender Studies. She is currently home because of ME/CFS, a debilitating neuro-immune condition that puzzles researchers worldwide.