Agnès Jaoui, Let It Rain, 2008, still from a color film in 35 mm, 110 minutes.


IN LET IT RAIN, a pair of clueless, bumbling documentary filmmakers worry over the tiny details of their framings: whether a fern in the background gives a halo to the subject, whether a poppy pinned to another subject’s dress is “overdoing” it. Director Agnès Jaoui, who is certainly far from clueless, is only a tad less exacting, but her mixture of off-kilter framings and disorientingly close handheld tracking shots (amid more conventionally studied long takes) imparts an appropriately rough-hewn quality to her messily comic look at the familial, racial, and especially sexual resentments of a half-dozen men and women living in or visiting a provincial French town.

The film stars the director as author-turned-politician Agathe, following the character as she visits her sister in the country home where they both grew up, breaks up with her more conventionally minded boyfriend, and agrees to be the subject of the aforementioned documentary as an example of a “successful woman.” As Jaoui divides her focus between Agathe and the other characters, she maps out a tension-filled environment in which everyone is distracted and tuning one another out, each person ruled by his or her particular prejudice.

Key to understanding the characters—whom Jaoui and coscreenwriter Jean-Pierre Bacri treat with a mixture of tentative compassion and critical, often ironic, distance—is the on-screen figures’ attitude toward the film’s two buzzwords: feminism and politics. They become dirty words—the former for most of the film’s men, the latter for just about everyone, including incipient politician Agathe herself. Resentments come out most strikingly during the documentary interviews in which the intradiegetic filmmakers, Michel (Bacri) and especially Karim (Jamel Debbouze), brutally grill their subject with questions about female quotas in politics, which Agathe, who seems uncertain of her political stances, handles with unflappable dignity.

Still, no matter how ugly the expression, every character has his or her justification, and Karim eventually grows from caricature to character as he explains to Agathe the effect of a lifetime of subtle racism—mirrored in the condescension shown toward his mother, who was in fact Agathe’s family’s longtime maid. In the end, communication is possible, resentments can be worked out, and new connections can be established, as Jaoui makes clear, even if the result is that her productively off-kilter film winds up concluding a tad too tidily for its own good.

Andrew Schenker

Let It Rain opens at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas in New York on Friday, June 18.