This is the second directorial effort for Agnes Jaoui, and it shares a number of thematic similarities with her first, The Taste of Others (2000). I find her two films to be stimulating, textured, and unique in the way they capture the ins and outs of relationships. And when I say that, I am not simply referring to dating or marriage, but to parent/child, business, and plain old friendships.
In Look at Me, which involves the intertwining stories of several related characters, Jaoui explores all of these, and one of the key points of tension is the degree to which no one seems to be able to communicate with anyone else. Oh, there’s talking, and plenty of it – but the characters never really seem to be able to connect with anyone else, often due to the inordinate amount of distraction in their lives. What is so terribly sad about their situations, is that nearly all these people have others in their life that want to know them deeply, that want to love them in spite of themselves. But each of these people is so caught up in their own life and pursuits. They are so focused on what they want, that they miss what they already have.
Of note here is that a simple act of kindness near the beginning of the film sets the stage for the transformative experiences a number of the characters have later. Yet, this act is such a throwaway moment for this character, that she doesn’t realize the significance of it, neither for herself nor for the person she helps. Jaoui frames the film with this scene at the beginning, and another like it at the films conclusion. In doing so, I think it’s clear that some kind of transformation occurs in this character, that at least this person has begun to see outside herself.
But I think the transformation goes further than that. Jaoui seems particularly attuned to her female characters, and I find it interesting that in general they come off looking quite a bit better than the men, excepting one. The women are among the first to bring some clarity into the lives of these people. They are the ones who take positive action, in an effort to purify relationships that have been poisoned by self-centeredness.
And in thinking about these ideas of characters transforming, what I love about Look at Me (as well as her previous film), is that it is clear change will only occur as people are in relationship with one another. That ultimately, any transformation that comes into someone’s life comes because they were with people, they struggled through difficult times in the relationship, and were better people on the other side of it. But don’t get the wrong idea: Jaoui is not so pie in the sky that she tacks on some big happy ending where everyone has their big breakthrough. Far from it. Instead, she hints at changes through simple actions, preferring to leave things subtle and understated. This brings the viewer into the film – we have to kind of put together for ourselves where these people are headed. Some are going one way, some another. That resembles life. It resembles the people I know. And maybe that’s what I like so much about Jaoui’s films – they’re filled with human beings.