Look at Me (2004)

“People smell success. They come running.”

In the superior French film Look at Me famous author/publisher Etienne Cassard (Jean Pierre Bacri) is the centre of attention wherever he goes–restaurants, book signings, parties–everyone wants to meet him, and everyone wants something from him. Etienne knows this–he uses his fame, and he uses people–discarding them when they no longer have use. He vacillates between showing off his much younger wife Karine (Virginie Desarnauts) and ignoring her. Karine has difficulty adjusting to these dual states of attention.

Etienne’s daughter from his long-forgotten first marriage is unfortunately named Lolita (Marilou Berry). She’s plump, deeply insecure, and cruelly ignored by her famous father. Lolita possesses the voice of an angel, and studies singing with voice coach Sylvia (Agnes Jaoui–who also directed the film). Sylvia’s husband, Pierre (Laurent Grevill) is a new writer whose latest book comes to Etienne’s attention. Pierre becomes yet another Etienne groupie–much to Lolita and Sylvia’s disgust.

It’s a joy to watch Etienne in action. He’s one of those successful types whose self-image is bolstered by those he abuses. He can silence a rude taxi-driver, and effectively hobble Lolita’s ego for weeks. He can make or break a writer who’s far more talented. Etienne’s intimate circle is the place to be, and yet there’s a price for those who manage to stomach his company. He surrounds himself with sycophants and then pumps himself up observing his reflected image. All the other characters–with the exception of the principled Sylvia and Sebastien–a young man Lolita drags home one night–bow to Etienne’s superiority. No wonder Etienne is insufferable.

Look at Me does not view its characters with pity. Even the seriously crushed Lolita retains her dignity in the face of her father’s insufferable ego. We just wait for the lesson we know Etienne so badly deserves. Who will deal the coup de grace? Who will stand up to Etienne and tell him just what an insufferable ego he has–will it be Karine, Lolita, Sylvia, or Sebastien? “Look at Me” also examines the integrity of the artist–something that Etienne either doesn’t understand, has forgotten or deliberately ignores. Fans of French film, Look at Me is an intricate, complex look at human nature–don’t miss it.

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