French film begs for attention

Kirsten Rusinak

Here is a dangerous confession: Instead of cringing over the folksy vice-presidential debate this past Thursday night, I went to the Wriston auditorium with my roommate and watched “Comme une Image” (2004), the first film of the Tournées Festival.
The decision turned out in my favor — I still feel like the film; it was completely witty, sensitive, romantic and thoughtful.
The title directly translates to “Like an Image,” but the chosen title, “Look at Me,” captures the main connection between all the characters — a need for attention.
The film is carried by Lolita Cassard, an overweight woman in her twenties with a beautiful voice. Her father, Etienne Cassard, a successful novelist and publisher, does not care about anyone but himself, not even Lolita.
Everything in his life is visual — even his relationships, with a wife only a few years older than Lolita and friends that only exist to increase the success of his career. Even Etienne’s writing, supposedly the meaning of his life, has become something to merely talk about doing.
AgnŠs Jaoui plays Sylvia Millet, Lolita’s voice instructor, who ends up playing mediator between all the characters, much like her real life role as director of the film.
Sylvia’s husband, Pierre, is also a novelist, but less successful than Etienne. Sylvia jumps at the opportunity to help Lolita’s choir rehearse for an upcoming concert, in hopes of getting her father to take a look at her husband’s novel.
The social connection made, Etienne invites everyone for a weekend at his house in the country, including Lolita’s new admirer, Sebastian, throwing Sylvia right into the middle of the tension between Lolita and her father.
The night of the concert reveals each character in his or her most raw and ruthless form. Sylvia sees that her husband, by association, has become no better than Etienne. However, Sylvia is not the only enlightened character.
Lolita, despite her need for attention sought through incessant whining about her weight, realizes that she needs to look beyond her family, to her romantic and artistic relationships, for love and genuine connection.
Sebastian and Lolita not only hit it off romantically, but also become surrogate parents for one another. Sebastian and Lolita’s relationship masters both familial and romantic love because the two have the same expectations for each other, unlike Etienne, who demands virtues in others that he does not have himself.
The near-empty theater Thursday night pulled me straight into the glowing screen and into the characters’ lives, but a few other factors were responsible for my complete enthrallment.
Though the characters in the film are dysfunctional, that quality allows for complete analysis of each relationship, and a good deal of witty dialogue within emotionally tense moments.
Moments like this allow the film to be categorized as a drama, comedy and romance. “Comme une Image” has won eight Academy Awards and has received seven nominations, deeming it well worth a viewing.