Look at Me (Comme une image) (2004)

Cynthia Fuchs

Used to being yessed no matter what how small the detail, Étienne assumes his every desire will be satisfied.

Look At Me (comme Une Image)

Director: #232;s Jaoui
Display Artist: Agnès Jaoui
MPAA rating: PG-13
Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
Cast: Marilou Berry, Agnès Jaoui, Jean-Pierre Bacri, Laurent Grévill, Virginie Desarnauts, Keine Bouhiza, Grégoire Oestermann
First date: 2004
US Release Date: 2005-04-01 (Limited release)

Ironically and appropriately, the character who voices the request of this film's English title -- "Look at me" -- remains least noticed throughout. Vincent (Grégoire Oestermann), longtime, infinitely patient assistant to celebrity novelist Étienne Cassard (co-writer Jean-Pierre Bacri), hovers at the margins of most scenes, both in his employer's existence and in the film, quietly tending to his wishes and never revealing a life of his own. When, for instance, Étienne forgets the wine he meant to bring for a dinner, Vincent offers to drive back for it: "Look at me," he says when Étienne at first dismisses the offer. That is, Vincent means what he says: he will run the errand, tedious and predictable as it may be.

Life with Étienne is like this. Used to being yessed no matter what how small the detail, he assumes his every desire will be satisfied. But he also uses such moments of (his or others') decision to secure his self-importance, encouraging employees, acquaintances, even family members -- his 20-something wife Karine (Virginie Desarnauts) and his 20-year-old daughter Lolita (Marilou Berry) -- to indulge him. Because he's famous, he gets what he wants, even before he quite knows what that is.

Centered on the fraught relationship between aspiring singer (perhaps actor) Lolita and Étienne, Look at Me (Comme une image) is a study of fame and family, laced with strands of selfishness, and considerations of desire and resentment, coloring all. Wanting desperately to get her father's attention, Lolita works hard at her singing, with the help of her teacher Sylvia (co-writer and director Agnès Jaoui), who remains mostly uninterested in the girl until she learns her father's identity. At this point, the well-meaning Sylvia perks up, as her husband, Pierre (Laurent Grévill), is a novelist who needs a break; as his last book was published years before, Pierre is feeling sorry for himself, like a "kept husband," and Sylvia decides to exploit her relationship with Lolita to advance his career.

It's not such a terrible move, pretty typical really, and familiar to Lolita: everyone she meets knows of her father and uses her to get to him. Her sometime "boyfriend" slips her materials to hand off to Étienne while casually bringing other girls along on their movie dates; because she wants so much to be seen by someone, Lolita puts up with this behavior, but it only reinforces her understanding of the world, namely, that it revolves around her dad. It doesn't help that Étienne thinks this as well; he offhandedly calls her his "big girl" (she's slightly overweight, which her father assumes makes moot her career aspirations) and regularly comments on the pretty girls who sing with her. (That he does so in front of Karine as well might make her seem a standard trophy wife, but she's surprising too, eventually revealing her own fears ("Lolita will never like me!") and demanding that her husband pay some attention ("I feel like a chair").

Awarded the prize for best screenplay at last year's Cannes Film Festival, the complicated, elusive, and engaging Look at Me makes repeated and careful connections among insecurities. Tellingly, Karine's apprehensions echo Lolita's, which correspond to Pierre's (as he is increasingly drawn into Étienne's sphere, he begins to act like him, mimicking his interest in pretty girls, forgetting old friends and obligations), which in turn affect Sylvia.

Lolita, in fact, has been negotiating her father's self-absorption for so long that she now assumes it even as she rails against it. "I'm a zero," she sobs to a new friend, Sébastien (Keine Bouhiza). Given that they "met" when he passed out drunk at her feet one evening (and she instinctively and generously covered him with her coat, not expecting to get it back), it's clear that Sébastien has similar anxieties. But when he admits them, she can't see him either: "Not as much as me," she insists. Okay, Sébastien grants by his silence, she wins this contest, one that neither really wants or even fully comprehends.

And yet, the hierarchy of carelessness and egotism remains complex in this refreshingly unsentimental film, even extending to Sylvia, who might appear at first glance to be a moral center, as she does eventually call out Étienne for his cruelty to Lolita. But Sylvia makes some cutting remarks and decisions of her own, sometimes out of allegiance to Pierre, but sometimes to achieve her own measure of self-worth at someone else's expense. It's this intricacy of impulses and needs, feeble efforts to connect and little vengeance plots, that makes Look at Me so unusual, as social satire and familial comedy. By the time Étienne himself suffers a sense of loss -- however briefly -- it seems less "just desserts" than more of the same.

For while Étienne's fame shapes the film's array of contentions and conflicts, it's more a symptom than a cause of the profound sense of loss that organizes everyone's expectations. And while Lolita lives in his seeming shadow, she works hard, if not precisely consciously, to replicate the pain of this relationship in others, alternately playing her father's role and her own. Smart and sensitive, Lolita struggles to get her father's attention, even as he is also revealed to be vulnerable and needy, not quite forgivable, but not reductively bad either. Whether Lolita comes to see her own participation or not is left somewhat open in Look at Me. And that's ironic and appropriate too.





PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.


David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors

David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.


David Lord Salutes Collaborators With "Cloud Ear" (premiere)

David Lord teams with Jeff Parker (Tortoise) and Chad Taylor (Chicago Underground) for a new collection of sweeping, frequently meditative compositions. The results are jazz for a still-distant future that's still rooted in tradition.


Laraaji Takes a "Quiet Journey" (premiere +interview)

Afro Transcendentalist Laraaji prepares his second album of 2020, the meditative Moon Piano, recorded inside a Brooklyn church. The record is an example of what the artist refers to as "pulling music from the sky".


Blues' Johnny Ray Daniels Sings About "Somewhere to Lay My Head" (premiere)

Johnny Ray Daniels' "Somewhere to Lay My Head" is from new compilation that's a companion to a book detailing the work of artist/musician/folklorist Freeman Vines. Vines chronicles racism and injustice via his work.


The Band of Heathens Find That Life Keeps Getting 'Stranger'

The tracks on the Band of Heathens' Stranger are mostly fun, even when on serious topics, because what other choice is there? We all may have different ideas on how to deal with problems, but we are all in this together.


Landowner's 'Consultant' Is OCD-Post-Punk With Obsessive Precision

Landowner's Consultant has all the energy of a punk-rock record but none of the distorted power chords.


NYFF: 'American Utopia' Sets a Glorious Tone for Our Difficult Times

Spike Lee's crisp concert film of David Byrne's Broadway show, American Utopia, embraces the hopes and anxieties of the present moment.


South Africa's Phelimuncasi Thrill with Their Gqom Beats on '2013-2019'

A new Phelimuncasi anthology from Nyege Nyege Tapes introduces listeners to gqom and the dancefloors of Durban, South Africa.


Wolf Parade's 'Apologies to the Queen Mary' Turns 15

Wolf Parade's debut, Apologies to the Queen Mary, is an indie rock classic. It's a testament to how creative, vital, and exciting the indie rock scene felt in the 2000s.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Literary Scholar Andrew H. Miller On Solitude As a Common Bond

Andrew H. Miller's On Not Being Someone Else considers how contemplating other possibilities for one's life is a way of creating meaning in the life one leads.


Fransancisco's "This Woman's Work" Cover Is Inspired By Heartache (premiere)

Indie-folk brothers Fransancisco dedicate their take on Kate Bush's "This Woman's Work" to all mothers who have lost a child.


Rodd Rathjen Discusses 'Buoyancy', His Film About Modern Slavery

Rodd Rathjen's directorial feature debut, Buoyancy, seeks to give a voice to the voiceless men and boys who are victims of slavery in Southeast Asia.


Hear the New, Classic Pop of the Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" (premiere)

The Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" is a pop tune, but pop as heard through ears more attuned to AM radio's glory days rather than streaming playlists and studio trickery.


Blitzen Trapper on the Afterlife, Schizophrenia, Civil Unrest and Our Place in the Cosmos

Influenced by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Blitzen Trapper's new album Holy Smokes, Future Jokes plumbs the comedic horror of the human condition.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Fire in the Time of Coronavirus

If we venture out our front door we might inhale both a deadly virus and pinpoint flakes of ash. If we turn back in fear we may no longer have a door behind us.


Sufjan Stevens' 'The Ascension' Is Mostly Captivating

Even though Sufjan Stevens' The Ascension is sometimes too formulaic or trivial to linger, it's still a very good, enjoyable effort.

Jordan Blum

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.