Look at Me [Comme Une Image]

| April 9, 2005

Have you ever wondered what other people think of you? Of course, you have – we all have. That’s just part of being human. We wonder if people will notice an extra five pounds here or a new haircut there- and please don’t try to tell me it’s only a girl thing. I know way too many guys who obsess over their hairlines and beer guts. But I digress…
What if all those anxieties – all those little things you already hate about yourself – were not only noticed but also pointed out to you on a daily basis? What if you knew that others, even your own family, judged you by your looks? Are you shaking your head right now, exclaiming that those who love you would never do that? Well, think again. With unbiased and sometimes brutal honesty, Jaoui’s Look At Me covers this controversial territory, exploring both the preferential treatment and discrimination individuals receive because of their beauty or perceived lack of it.
While this film can definitely fall under the category of ensemble piece, one character stands out from the rest- Lolita Cassard (Marilou Berry). A young woman who aspires to be a professional singer, she is painfully reminded everyday of being overweight. Her famous father, the writer/publisher Étienne (Jean-Pierre Bacri), calls her his “big girl”. Her young and beautiful stepmother whines that she’s putting on weight while trying on clothes into which Lolita could only dream of fitting. Her boyfriend fools around with a thinner, prettier girl at a party while Lolita looks on in silence. She is surrounded by those who- whether consciously or not- punish her for her size. At the same time, she is supremely aware that others use her for her famous father. For anyone that simply knows her as Lolita, she is a nothing. Even her singing instructor, Sylvia Millet (Agnès Jaoui), seems bothered by her presence in class. Yet when Sylvia learns of Lolita’s father, she suddenly has a very different attitude towards her pupil.
As I mentioned earlier, this film is more than just Lolita’s story. Jaoui also delves into the power of fame and how anyone can be lured in by it. Both Sylvia and her husband, Pierre (Laurent GrĂ©vill), become entranced by Étienne and his celebrity status. Although he is obnoxiously rude and completely self-centered, Étienne is forgiven for these faults simply because of his name. The rules of civility and courtesy don’t apply to him. Moreover, as Sylvia and Pierre spend more and more time with Étienne, they too begin to change. Once completely against the idea, Sylvia agrees to coach Lolita’s singing troupe after her student’s well-known father is revealed. Pierre, a writer himself, decides after years of loyalty to leave his long-time publisher and friend to sign with whom else but Cassard’s own agency. Celebrity, it seems, is just as intoxicating as any drug or drink.
This film speaks with an honesty that few of us would like to admit as the truth. It would be useless, though, to deny the biases we all hold against each other because of beauty, fame or otherwise. Look At Me, while holding up a mirror to the sometimes ugly behavior of society, hopefully will also teach us to recognize these prejudices in order to move beyond them.

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