July 03, 2010

Let it Rain

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A movie review by James Berardinelli



Let it Rain

DRAMA/COMEDY:

France, 2008

U.S. Release Date:

2010-07-02

Running Length:

1:36

MPAA Classification:

NR

Theatrical Aspect Ratio:

2.35:1

Cast:

Jean-Pierre Bacri, Jamel Debbouze, Agnès Jaoui, Pascale Arbillot, Guillaume de Tonquedec, Frédéric Pierrot, Mimouna Hadji, Florence Loiret-Caille

Director:

Agnès Jaoui

Screenplay:

Agnès Jaoui & Jean-Pierre Bacri

Cinematography:

David Quesemand

U.S. Distributor:

IFC Films

Subtitles:

In French with English subtitles


Let it Rain, a French film that has taken two years to reach North American theaters (a testimony to how poor the market is these days even for well-made, high-profile foreign fare), makes the case that simplicity in a motion picture can be a good thing. The director, co-writer, and co-star of Let it Rain is Agnès Jaoui, who has been a presence in French film since the mid-1980s as an actress, the early 1990s as a screenwriter, and 2000 as a director. This is her third film, following The Taste of Others and Look at Me. Jaoui has a distinct style: small, almost inconsequential narratives; well-defined characters; oblique, subtle social commentary; and enough humor to make one wonder whether the movie is better classified as a "drama" or a "comedy" (not that such labels would mean much to the filmmaker). Let it Rain fits in well with Jaoui's other efforts (both as a writer and as a director).

Let it Rain unfolds in a small French town situated three hours from Paris (by train). The central characters are a pair of bumbling filmmakers: one-time successful documentarian Michel (Jean-Pierre Bacri), who has fallen on hard times, and hotel receptionist Karim (Jamel Debbouze). They decide to produce a portrait of Agathe Villanova (Agnès Jaoui), a well-known feminist writer who has made the leap into politics. Since Karim is the son of the long-time housekeeper of the Villanova family, Agathe agrees to the project - also perhaps because she sees potential value in the documentary as it relates to her campaign. The interviews with her are shot at her childhood home, where she has returned to sort-out the affairs of her recently deceased mother. Her sister, Florence (Pascale Arbillot), with whom she has a fractious relationship, still lives there, along with her clingy husband, Stephane (Guillaume de Tonquudec). Not coincidentally, Michel and Florence are lovers, and the interviews provide them with an excuse to spend time together.

Let it Rain is suffused with a delicious sense of the absurd that keeps it from becoming too serious. The dialogue is peppered with witticisms and the antics of the two filmmakers, while never resulting in full-bellied guffaws, are likely to provoke chuckles. When the foliage in the background of a shot makes Agathe look like she's wearing a bizarre headdress, they ask her boyfriend to pull the branch to one side. On another occasion - one afflicted by Murphy's Law - they are stymied by noisy sheep, a dead camera battery, a cloudburst, and a car that has flipped on its side. Admittedly, the French sense of humor is very different from the American one, but some things are amusing in any language.

However, although Jaoui isn't beyond a little playfulness, she has some serious points to make. She's a little like Woody Allen in that way - albeit much better looking and without all the baggage. She has a lot to say and she does so without preaching or relying on in-your-face speeches - principally about racism, politics, and the potential damage of adhering to an inflexible credo. Agathe is nationally recognized for her strong feminist beliefs; that is the foundation upon which her popularity resides (at least for those with whom she is popular). She rejects marriage and family as paths to unhappiness because of limitations they place on her freedom. She's perfectly happy with her life the way it is - or so she thinks until her boyfriend decides he's too traditional to play the role she has envisioned for him. And she's given food for thought when her old family housekeeper remarks that marriage isn't as much about ceding freedom as it is about having someone who will get you a glass of water when you're not feeling well. Later, when Agathe mistakenly views a joke cut of the documentary in which she is depicted as a heartless dominatrix, she is provided with insight into the public perception of her.

Let it Rain is as simple and straightforward a movie as one is likely to find in theaters today. It eschews melodrama and overt artiness. It is talky but often has its tongue in its cheek. It emphasizes character over narrative because that's the way it is for most of us in reality. It offers resolutions to some plot points but keeps many strands untied, and we don't mind at all. The movie, made with humor and human insight, never forces or belabors its points, relying on the viewer's intelligence to trust that ideas will be recognized. Audiences with an affinity for movies of this sort will find a reason for celebration with Let it Rain, whose theatrical presence in the noisy, vacuous summer marketplace is a minor miracle.

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