Combustible Celluloid
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With: Audrey Tautou, Samuel Le Bihan, Isabelle Carré, Clément Sibony, Sophie Guillemin, Eric Savin, Michèle Garay, Élodie Navarre
Written by: Laetitia Colombani, Caroline Thivel
Directed by: Laetitia Colombani
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements and some obsessive behavior
Language: French with English subtitles
Running Time: 96
Date: 03/27/2002

He Loves Me... He Loves Me Not (2003)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Cutting Flowers

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The frame is filled with roses. Slowly Audrey Tautou rises into view, flashing her big Amélie eyes and that adorable smile. It's perfect. She belongs nowhere else on this earth than among a field of flowers. But like a rose, Tautou has thorns. It's not before long in He Loves Me... He Loves Me Not we see how far away from the Amélie tree this apple has fallen. Here's warning: I'm about to give away some crucial plot points, but only as a way to illustrate why He Loves Me... He Loves Me Not does not work.

Tautou plays Angélique, a Parisian artist in love with a doctor, Loïc (Samuel Le Bihan). Having recently landed a prestigious scholarship, she must spend her summer crafting enough paintings for an exhibition. But she'd rather pine away for her true love. She sends him flowers and a painting and orders plane tickets for a weekend abroad. Then the movie pulls a Rashomon on us. We learn that Angélique has barely even met Loïc, and their relationship exists only in her head. Loïc actually is happily married and about to be a father.

Making her feature debut director. Laetitia Colombani tries to fool us in movie's first half, setting up shots and editing to make it look like Angélique is having a normal relationship -- or at least a normal affair with a married man. But the subterfuge is too suspect. We realize early on that Angélique and Loïc never really spend time together. In the movie's second portion, told from Loïc's view, Colombani and co-screenwriter Caroline Thivel attempt to "solve" the puzzles set up in the first. It's entertaining, briefly, such as when Loïc tries to figure out who his dangerous admirer could be.

But the movie continues into an unwieldy third segment that suddenly expects us to take Angélique's condition -- diagnosed as "erotomania" -- seriously. Colombani appartently has noticed that movies that treat diseases seriously often win awards. She's also learned that movies that subvert time, such as Rashomon, Pulp Fiction and Run Lola Run, earn popular acclaim. But to quote an old proverb, she just can't have her cake and eat it too.

Still, the movie has one thing going for it: Tautou. The actress who has been called everything from "pixie" to "gamine" to "French sugarplum fairy" may not effectively convey her malady, but she charms the pants off of the audience. We even root for her occasionally, as we would root for a delicious villain in a Hollywood action flick. When she murders a woman who wants to sue the doctor, we want her to get away with the crime. The cops drop by to ask questions, and Tautou is cool as a cucumber; other twitchy, nervous movie psychopaths could learn a thing or two from her. Tautou's character here looks more human and less cartoony than in Amélie. Her looser, more revealing clothing and relaxed hair only increase her sex appeal. She's so endearing she ought to be declared illegal -- she might go around causing unbearable happiness everywhere.

Yet Tautou ultimately is miscast in He Loves Me... He Loves Me Not. Her charm should be used for more cheerful or more tragic films, and not cheap thrillers. The most intriguing character is actually Angélique's best friend David (Clément Sibony), who loves her unconditionally and suffers in silence as he watches her bang her head against the wall over the doctor. All his tender loving care can't break her spell, and he can't shake the feelings he has for her. We understand his pain, but unfortunately David doesn't has enough screen time to become a real character. He's just another problem in a problematic film that really doesn't deserve our Audrey.

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