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The Bumbling Bourgeoisie, Affectionately Dissected

Amateur Auteur: Michel (Jean-Pierre Bacri, left) is a reporter who asks Agathe (Agnes Jaoui) to be a subject in his documentary about "successful women" in Let It Rain. IFC Films hide caption

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IFC Films

Let It Rain

  • Director: Agnes Jaoui
  • Genre: Art, Comedy, Drama
  • Running Time: 96 minutes
Not Rated

With: Agnes Jaoui, Jean-Pierre Bacri, Jamel Debbouze, Pascale Arbillot

Discontented husbands and wives cast longing glances where they oughtn't. Tables groan with good-looking food in sunlit country gardens. Jealous siblings feud; servants wax faithful or bitter. Fickle weather cues labile emotions.

This is where the diligent critic brings up Anton Chekhov, and rightly so, given the existential anxiety that floats freely through Agnes Jaoui's new film Let It Rain. Except that this is not rural Russia but Provence, circa now, and the angst comes trimmed with broad comedy poking fun at the indiscreet charmlessness of the bourgeoisie.

Jaoui, who made the engaging comedies The Taste Of Others and Look At Me, is sometimes dismissed as an exemplar of French bourgeois filmmaking. That's only partly just: She and her co-writer and former husband, Jean-Pierre Bacri, come from North African Jewish families, which gives them the usefully jaundiced perspective of outsiders.

As in all their movies, the hapless ensemble that drives the comically circular action in Let It Rain is a collection of amateurs and bumblers in life and work. As always, too, they aspire to or toil on the margins of the arts, while obsessing fruitlessly over slights and injuries past and present.

Jaoui plays Agathe Villanova, an ambitious feminist writer from Paris who's cramming in a duty visit to her fragile younger sister Florence (Pascale Arbillot) while attending a rally to juice her run for public office. As timid and self-deprecating as her go-getting sister is self-possessed, Florence — who can't let go of her belief that Agathe was their recently deceased mother's favorite — is stepping out on her devoted but clingy husband (Guillaume de Tonquedec) with Michel (Bacri), a blowhard local reporter who has an opinion on everything, even though he can't tell cassata from custard.

Risky Rendezvous: Pascale Arbillot plays Florence, a fragile and timid woman who has an affair with a local reporter. IFC Films hide caption

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IFC Films

Risky Rendezvous: Pascale Arbillot plays Florence, a fragile and timid woman who has an affair with a local reporter.

IFC Films

Completing this circle of nutballs, Michel and his friend Karim (played by the star comedian Jamel Debbouze) solicit Agathe to be the first subject of their debut film, a documentary on the heavily recycled theme of "successful women." It's not promising that the only prior experience on their joint resume is a film Michel once made about bullfighting — from the point of view of the bull — or that Karim constantly interrupts filming to harangue Agathe about her condescension toward him and his mother (played impressively by Mimouna Hadji, in her first acting role), who virtually raised the sisters.

It should come as no surprise that the creative process goes poorly, making room for some goofy shenanigans involving, among other distractions you won't find in the stage directions for The Cherry Orchard, an inadvertent bleating competition between a politician and a flock of sheep. (I assume I need not tell you who wins.)

Let It Rain has its moments of corn: If I never see another tracking shot of a workaholic so welded to her cell phone that she can't see her own life getting away from her, it'll be too soon. And the film's observations on class, race and gender in modern France are hardly new. But the screenplay offers its crisp zingers, and there's a lovely lilt to the surprisingly quiet rhythms with which all this useless agony unfolds. The movie's adroit tonal versatility is underscored by a soundtrack that ranges from Middle Eastern music to Nina Simone.

Jaoui's insights into the human struggle to find meaningful ways to live may not be especially profound, but she brings a warm particularity and a tough but tender compassion to her studies of congenital human discontent and the crazy, often self-defeating ways in which we strive to complete ourselves. If that's bourgeois, we might all plead guilty.