Look at Me -- with its impeccable script, finely tuned acting, and astonishing emotional integrity -- is film at its finest, and it does what art is meant to do: It shines a penetrating, intelligent light on a swath of living, breathing humanity. And in so doing, it shows us who we are.
Lolita (Marilou Berry) is 20 years old and, in her father's words, "anger on wheels." She has cause: Said father is the famous writer-publisher Etienne Cassard (Jean-Pierre Bacri), an insufferable narcissist who can't be bothered to pay attention to either of his daughters -- neither Lolita, whose mother left for the West Indies when Lolita was 3, nor Louna (Emma Beziaud), a 5-year-old whose mother Karine (Virginie Desarnauts) is roughly Lolita's age. It doesn't help that Lolita is heavy and not conventionally pretty. Her father calls her his "big girl" while admiring every skinny blonde who enters his field of vision. And everyone who befriends Lolita, including her sometime boyfriend, Mathieu (Julien Baumgartner), does so only to get to her father.
Even Sylvie (Agnès Jaoui), Lolita's voice teacher, is guilty. At first, Sylvie finds Lolita unnerving -- the younger woman openly idolizes the older -- and largely a pest. Lolita is organizing a small chorus and wants Sylvie to direct. Sylvie vows to her husband, frustrated writer Pierre (Laurent Grevill), that she won't take on the extra work, but two things happen. First, Lolita reveals that she's the daughter of Cassard, a writer Sylvie greatly admires. Second, Lolita's father wants to publish Pierre's book.
Among the amazing things about Look at Me are the individual moments, crafted to perfection, that pass between characters. In an opening scene, Sylvie removes her eye makeup as she comforts her husband, who is disconsolate about his career. As she smudges the shadow into a cloth, Pierre smiles and remarks that every once in a while, it's lovely to have a discussion with a panda. It's an affectionate jab, a way of saying that he's grateful for her support without actually having to say it. She knows it, and so does he. Later, while shopping for clothes, the well-meaning Karine urges Lolita into a dressing room to try on a shirt. Lolita, fulminating about the lack of selection in her size, snorts, "I hope I fit in the booth." Here, Lolita gets to be a real fat woman with anger and dignity. She's smart and funny, and her anger is righteous.
If there is a flaw in Look at Me, it's Cassard's character, who errs slightly on the side of excess. But the extremity is necessary for the plot. It takes a man like Cassard to create anger like Lolita's, so he can't be too sympathetic, and there really are men like him with daughters like her. That Cassard never changes, not even in the final moments of the film, is a giddy pleasure because it allows Lolita the full spark of her defiance.