Why does classical music used in movies so routinely appear as mannered,
mushy, artificial? I don't have the answer, but can suggest an antidote:
Agnes Jaoui's film, "Comme une image," about to be distributed in the
US, is all about music, and it's all "real."
Well, not all, there is one exception: a realistically precarious student
performance of Schubert's "An die Musik" that opens the film returns at
the very end, and quickly develops into a lush orchestral version, the
lieder picked up on a hundred strings - ugh. But otherwise, "Look at
Me" (the international title) or "Cosi fan tutti" (in Italy) is a
straight-arrow work with honesty and integrity, quite without the
soft-focused shots through Vaseline-smeared lens of a typical "music
Jaoui is such a bright, intelligent, appealing director, actor... and
voice teacher. That's the role she assigned to herself, and when she
is interacting with Marilou Berry, who plays the film's heroine - an
overweight, troubled, not especially talented music student - every word,
every gesture, every sound rings true. A main musical story line, about
an amateur group rehearsing and performing Handel and Monteverdi, is
done without poking fun at the singers, but not idealizing the scenes
Funny, fascinating and relevant, the script is by Jean-Pierre Bacri
(an actor you will instantly recognize even if you never heard the name),
about egos and relationships, Bacri assigning the film's most obnoxious
character to himself. As the famous writer and publisher living in a
self-generated bubble, the character begins by putting a Paris cab driver
in his place (!) and ends by ignoring his daughter's all-important
All actors, except Berry, did their own singing, and results are, ahem,
variable. (Berry was dubbed live - as the film was being shot, not in
a studio - by Alexandra Rubner, a singer trying hard not to overachieve.)
"I didn't want too clean a sound," Jaoui has said in an interview, "and
definitely didn't want to clean up the imperfections because we [the
film's characters] are, for the most part, amateurs and it's these
imperfections that move me."
The director's involvement with music goes back to school days: "I
began singing because I was wasting away in theater classes, and I
felt I wasn't anything. At least with music, I was learning something.
But I don't think I would have had the rigors you need to become a
professional singer." One brief scene in "Look at Me," when Jaoui's
teacher sings along with her student, is proof of her excessive humility.
For years now, Jaoui has been singing with the amateurs that were
eventually cast as the vocal ensemble in the film, life imitating
art imitating life.
PS: "Look at Me" is highly recommended as a wonderfully entertaining
film, even if you don't care a whit about music.
PPS: If your musical whit is sizeable, check out the soundtrack at
http://tinyurl.com/66dge, but beware - in itself, without the movie,
it's not a CD you couldn't live without. In context, it's good fun,
especially *after* seeing "Look at Me."
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