Agnès Jaoui’s Let It Rain begins with a sight gag worthy of Laurel and Hardy: a tall, balding Frenchman stands next to a short, thick-maned Algerian. The taller one, Michel (co-writer Jean-Pierre Bacri) offers his companion, Karim (Jamel Debbouze), a joint, which Karim declines. They start walking, Michel loping and lecturing, and Karim by turns hyperactive and self-conscious. Though a couple of decades younger, Karim’s the straight man to Michel’s slouching clown. Michel doesn’t think he’s a clown—and importantly neither does Karim—but his manner, all droopy eyes, furrowed brow, and mug mouth, tips off the audience. Michel recruits Karim to collaborate on a documentary, soaking up the younger man’s energy while disarming him with respect. From the outset they have an unlikely but pleasing rapport, setting a pattern in the film for various combinations of relationships—one more contrived than the next yet each, in the end, winning.
Navigating the rocky straits of the serious-minded comedy, Let It Rain maintains a breezy tone while hinting at deeper concerns. Such comedies are always tricky endeavors, as too much levity squanders efforts at gravitas, and self-importance stifles laughs. For every film that succeeds in mining comedy for serious Chekhovian pathos (Rules of the Game, Crimes and Misdemeanors), there are films like the contrived, schmaltzy Life is Beautiful, or the justly forgotten Mel Brooks goes homeless knee-slapper Life Stinks. On the whole Let It Rain manages just fine. If its balanced approach occasionally has the feel of compromise, of a middle course overly plotted to avert danger, the film nevertheless exudes a warm, world-weathered integrity.
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