AgníÂ¨s Jaoui is a sharp observer of modern life, who not only writes and directs compelling films but also stars in them. Recent successes include Look at Me (Comme une image, 2004) and The Taste of Others (Le Goût des autres, 2000). Her latest film, Let’s Talk about the Rain (Parlez-moi de la pluie), is just as uncompromising in its portrayal of contemporary French society. Co-written with her long-term collaborator Jean-Pierre Bacri, Let’s Talk about the Rain explores the way in which people’s lives interweave and collide. It has a lighter, more overtly humorous feel than her previous features, yet it deals with two important issues: sexism and anti-Arab racism. It’s also a film about filmmaking – or about a film not being made.
The plot centres around the female protagonist, Agathe Villanova (Jaoui), a feminist and politician. She has reluctantly returned to her childhood home in the South of France to help her sister, Florence, sort out their mother’s possessions following her death earlier in the year. Agathe and Florence’s housekeeper, Mimouna (played movingly by non-professional and real-life friend of Jaoui, Mimouna Hadji), has a son, Karim, who is a young documentary maker working for TV. Karim’s mentor, Michel Ronsard (Bacri), persuades Agathe to be the subject of a TV series focusing on successful women.
Michel and Karim make a comic duo set against Agathe’s business-like presence: Michel is a hefty, middle-aged white man; Karim a diminutive, sparky young French-Arab. The plot is structured around frustratingly long sequences in which the pair try and fail to make their documentary – in one scene, shooting is interrupted by a flock of noisy sheep. Yet it’s because of these continual setbacks that characters are forced to listen to each other. Favouring sequence shots over close-ups and heavy editing, Jaoui emphasises the way in which relationships evolve. Characteristically, music plays a key role: key scenes are punctuated with excerpts from Schubert’s El Gondelfahrer, emphasising the polyphonic, ‘choral’ quality of the narrative. In other instances, Latin rhythms and bold brass melodies complement the film’s comic energy.
Ultimately, Let’s Talk about the Rain is about re-evaluation and reassessment. Even ‘tough’, authoritative Agathe is led to question her own attitudes to work and domestic life. Amorous relationships spring up and break down between other protagonists, too. Finally, the implied role reversal between Karim (evidently the more talented one, but hindered by racial prejudice) and Michel (the middle-class fool) hints at an uncomfortable truth: racial inequality is still prevalent in a country whose founding principles are ‘equality’ and ‘fraternity’. The film’s title is inspired by Georges Brassens’s song lyric, ‘Talk to me about the rain and not about the fine weather’. Like Brassens, Jaoui encourages us not to wait for the sun to come out, but to acknowledge the falling rain. As her film demonstrates, this attitude is just as important in making art as it is for living with others.