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With: Benoît Verhaert, Aylin Yay, Magali Pinglaut, Micheline Hardy, Frédéric Topart
Written by: Philippe Blasband
Directed by: Pierre-Paul Renders
MPAA Rating: R for strong sexuality and language
Language: French, with English subtitles
Running Time: 97
Date: 09/03/2000

Thomas in Love (2000)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Inside Looking Out

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

In 1947 actor Robert Montgomery directed his first film, Lady in the Lake, and cast himself in the lead role as Raymond Chandler's detective Philip Marlowe. That's not so extraordinary in itself, but Montgomery had the idea to film the whole movie from his own point-of-view. When he speaks to anyone, we hear his voiceover on the soundtrack and the other person talks directly to the camera. Needless to say, this idea didn't work. Now, more than 50 years later, we know what the trouble was.

Montgomery didn't have computers.

French writer Philippe Blasband and director Pierre-Paul Renders try it again in the new film Thomas in Love, and this time out it works. The setup begins with the double-named Thomas Thomas (Benoît Verhaert), an agoraphobic who hasn't left his apartment in eight years. Over the course of the film, we find out how he gets by. He speaks to his mother (Micheline Hardy) and his psychologist (Frédéric Topart) by video phone, has cybersex with a special suit, and has delivery people bring necessities to his apartment, leaving the packages in an antechamber for him.

To the movie's credit, everything is explained during the course of natural conversation and not vomited all out to us during the first five minutes by panicky storytellers. The movie begins with a serious bang, showing us Thomas' latest session of "Sextoons," a three-dimensional cybersex game starring a voluptuous Lara Croft-type cartoon character who pretends to seduce us. We don't know who Thomas is yet, so we immediately go along for the ride (so to speak).

Thomas' shrink decides that it's time to set him up with some human contact, and signs him up for a dating service. He meets one girl, Melodie (Magali Pinglaut), who he finds a connection with but everything goes south when they try the cybersex and she finds it "creepy." Then Thomas calls another service, one that provides both medical and sexual services to handicapped citizens, and becomes obsessed with a worker named Eva (Aylin Yay).

Though the entire film takes place on computer screens, director Renders provides plenty to look at. Firstly, the actors are all blessed with interesting faces; faces worth staring at for long moments at a time. Secondly, Renders sets the movie sometime in the future, where people wear strange symbols on their faces, as well as hang odd decorations and whatnot available in the backgrounds. For example, Melodie has a strange video monitor of an upside-down winking eye that's meant to be some kind of art object. The dating service lady has computer-animated butterflies fluttering all around her head.

Renders keeps the pace going at a good clip as well. Whenever any amount of time passes, he cuts to a blank blue field. Then the cleverly written dialogue lets us in on how much time has passed without sounding phony. And the film also seems to offer an idea of how computers might serve to further agoraphobic behavior. As it is, people can stay inside indefinitely and work, live, and order food from the internet.

Thomas in Love is a gimmick film, an experiment, but one that somehow works. Mostly because we're so much inside Thomas' head and we're able to understand how he falls in love so quickly, feels despair, grows impatient. The fact that we never see his face or his eyes and yet still get to know him is a magic trick that the film performs fluidly and gracefully.

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