Directed by Agnès Jaoui, starring Agnès Jaoui, Jean-Pierre Bacri and Anne Alvaro.
Castella the factory owner falls for Clara the actress and occasional English teacher. Deschamps the chauffeur falls for Manie the waitress and occasional drug dealer. Manie falls for Moreno the bodyguard and Angelique has no taste at all.
Have you guessed it's a French film yet? Written by Agnes Jaoui (who plays Manie) and Jean Pierre Bacri (who plays Castella) this bitter sweet romantic comedy is filled with characters and situations which, while superficially representing human connection, really explore themes of loneliness and human isolation.
The film also marks a directorial debut for Jaoui who, with great skill, weaves together a well-paced story about ordinary people's lives. Her previous writing projects have included 'On connaît la chanson' (Same Old Song) and 'Cuisine et dépendances' (Kitchen With Apartment) – films that also dealt with small groups of individuals struggling to relate to one another.
Castella is married to Angelique, a bored and extremely tasteless interior decorator. He runs a factory, but his heart's not in it anymore. One evening his wife drags him to a production of 'Berenice' where he instantly falls for Clara, the actress playing the Queen. He discovers she is also a part-time English tutor and he happens to need to learn English for a business deal. Hey presto: they're together on a weekly basis and before too long he expresses his feelings for her. She rejects him and they part company, leaving both feeling disconnected and miserable. A parallel story is occurring between the waitresses Manie who is a friend of Clara's, Deschamps who is Angelique's driver and Moreno who is Castella's bodyguard.
This fairly complex circle of acquaintances creates many opportunities for intermixing between social and class groups but this doesn't actually happen – yet another variation on the theme of isolation running through the film. The characters all have similar issues but they never quite recognise them in each other because of the situations in which they meet and interact.
All parts are extremely well acted with just the right balance of pathos and humour. Jaoui fends off the risk of embarrassment humour nicely and leaves the audience with empathy for the characters, something lacking in so many films. Just when you think they are going to fall into a ménage a trois the characters suddenly act like real people and you end up relating to them much more favourably because of it. In this film nobody is perfectly good or bad and it is this humanity that makes it work.