The characters looking away from each other, you can sense that the titular demand (´´Look at me!´´’) isn’t being met

COMME UN IMAGE made me think about culture´s problem with fat bodies. Societies practice a systematic exclusion of anything that doesn’t fit the dominant (Victorian or Stalinist) standard, that is to say, the vampire-like detachment of the body from earthly pleasures. Only a body capable of meeting the Greek standard is an acceptable one. Everything else must be made to feel like the Ugly Duckling.

COMME UN IMAGE chronicles the life of a chubby singer, humorously portrayed as the opposite of Nabakov’s original: a girl whose innocence doesn’t attract anyone. Lolita’s father is such a cold bastard that he often doesn’t look at her – hence the film’s title, translated from psychoanalytic French (”narcissistic identification with an idealized self-image”) to the more pragmatic English (referring to the girl’s demand to be accepted ”for who she really is”). The father’s quiet abuse is doubly frightening when you consider that the entire family finds the chubby unacceptable because of her weight. Apparently, the pathological narcissist is a role model for the French upper echelons, and all throughout the sordid proceedings, he maintains a high level of success (echoing Bret Easton Ellis’s AMERICAN PSYCHO).

Director Agnes Jaoui paints a portrait of French bourgeoisie that is so preoccupied with appearances, they don’t communicate with each other at all. Despite mobile phones ringing, nobody is picking up the calls; instead, desires end up in the ether. The chub’s painful coming-of-age story is interspersed with the story of two family clans, each run by narcissistic writers. They engagein male power games, which makes the family relationships even more strained. From the perspective of the men´s wives, it seems that women are only images in a private male theater. It’s a very lonely and scary place; after seeing this film, I don’t think I would like to live in upscale Paris.

I was impressed by Jaoui’s decision to deliver melodramatic content in naturalistic form. Her sensibility is close to Eric Romehr, and the film’s deadpan wit recalls the best days of Claude Chabrol (especially his masterpiece ”The Ceremony”). The chubby girl is the only character who displays human emotion, yet this doesn’t lead up to any catharsis. Emotions are banned from the society of privilege.

Sadly, art doesn’t seem able to redeem the emotions. LOOK AT ME is full of beautiful church music, expressing all the hurt and anger of the chubby girl, but the music doesn’t move anyone. Instead, it seems to play into their self-absorption. When the desperate Lolita screams at her father, ”It’s not about the image, it’s about the music!”, her words drown in the applause.