Bad weather refuses to dampen spirits in French director Agnes Jaoui’s new film, “Let It Rain.” The Martha’s Vineyard Film Society will screen this comedy of manners on Friday, Oct. 8 at the Katharine Cornell Theatre.
“Let It Rain” (“Parlez-moi de Pluie”) opens with would-be documentary makers Michel (Jean-Pierre Bacri) and Karim (Jamel Debbouze) lighting up a joint in the rain outside Hotel le Terminus, where Karim works as the desk clerk, in the south of France. They are talking about a proposed documentary film project.
Sly cinematic references — to French director Marcel Ophuls’s classic documentary about Klaus Barbie, “Hotel Terminus,” and to American director Jim Jarmusch’s offbeat comedy “Mystery Train” set in a Memphis Hotel — suggest that the audience should pay attention to context as much as storytelling in “Let It Rain.”
Michel is a has-been TV documentarian, and Karim is his Algerian protégée. They plan to interview Agathe (Ms. Jaoui), a successful feminist writer who is about to go into politics, for their project on successful women.
Karim grew up with Agathe in the south of France household where his Algerian mother Mimouna has worked as housekeeper since they both were children. Since Agathe is coming home to help her sister Florence (Pascale Arbillot) settle their late mother’s estate, Michel and Karim have a ready-made opportunity to start their film.
One gaffe after another delays the bumbling filmmakers’s interview with Agathe. In fact, the film consists of one delay after another, as the director focuses on the foibles and flaws of “Let It Rain’s” many characters.
Florence resents her more successful sister Agathe, and is carrying on an affair with Michel, unbeknownst to her doting husband Stephane. Karim has a far better developed sense of filmmaking than Michel, who’s divorced from his wife and resents not having custody of his son.
It wouldn’t be a French farce if most of the characters didn’t have romantic dalliances or breakups. They take place during the buzz of small talk that lies at the heart of “Let It Rain.” Karim, who is married, has eyes for the other hotel clerk. Michel and Karim squabble repeatedly, as do Agathe and Florence — with each other or their respective partners.
If the movie remains light on plot points, it delivers a bouquet of other cinematic treats. One droll sight gag has Florence reading in bed with a headlamp while her husband attempts a few amorous overtures.
Director Jaou fills the backdrops of “Let It Rain” with warm colors and charmingly cluttered interiors. Employing surprising variety, the musical soundtrack ranges from an a cappella male chorus and symphonic interludes with soprano accompaniment to some Mexican-style horn play and a few Nina Simon excerpts.
Then there is the rain. When Michel and Karim are not generating problems on their own, the weather adds its own minor disasters. A couple of farmers who provide respite from the rain demonstrate how relatively trivial in the larger political arena are the trials and tribulations of the aspiring filmmakers and their interviewee.
Wherever these amiable people end up, they always have plenty to talk about and confessions to make. As Garrison Keillor, American author and radio personality might say, this is a world where the women are strong, and the men — if not particularly good-looking — wear their hearts and their psyches on their sleeves.
“Let It Rain,” Friday, October 8, 7:30 pm, Katharine Cornell Theatre, Vineyard Haven. $8; $5 M.V. Film Society members. Doors open at 7 pm. For more information, visit mvfilmsociety.com.
Brooks Robards, a frequent contributor to The Times, divides her time between Oak Bluffs and Northampton.