Sunday, June 29, 2008
After her infectious turn as the title character in Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s worldwide smash hit The Fabulous Destiny of Amelie Poulain (2001), talented actress Audrey Tautou suddenly found herself as one of the most in demand young actors in Europe. She followed up Jeunet’s instantly iconic film with an impressive flurry of roles that would show off her abilities as a comedian (2001’s God Is Great and I’m Not), an ensemble player (2002’s The Spanish Apartment) and a dramatic force (2002’s Dirty Pretty Things). Between Amelie and the release of the unfortunate The Da Vinci Code in 2006, Tautou impressively appeared in nine films, all of which (despite their varying quality) marked her as one of the most talented and creative young actors in France. None of these projects were more interesting than Laetitia Colombani’s 2002 production He Loves Me He Loves Me Not, a sly and subversive genre hopping film which finds Audrey giving perhaps her greatest performance outside of Jeunet’s modern classic.
Colombani got her start in French film as a camera operator in the late eighties. In 1998 she released her first film, a short entitled Le Dernier Bip, in which she functioned as writer, director and star. The film would help her get financing for her first feature length project, an inventive paranoid thriller masquerading as a romantic comedy.
He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not tells the tale of a young art student named Angelique and a married doctor named Loic. The film’s story of their relationship is effectively told twice through both of their vastly different points of views and is followed by a chilling little coda that helps to subvert everything that has come before it. I’ll not go into plot specifics for people who haven’t seen it as the mysteries at the heart of He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not are among its biggest assists.
Photographed beautifully by Hate (1995) cinematographer Pierre Aim, He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not is one of the most colorful meditations on obsessive love ever filmed. It’s opening shots of flowers in bloom to the final chilling Pharmaceutical Mural that closes the film show Colombani as having a true painters eye for how her films should look. The costume designs for Tautou by Cesar nominated Jacqueline Bouchard are equally dazzling and work well into the more than slightly twisted psychology of the piece, as the seemingly naive and innocent Angelique is rarely seen in anything that doesn’t at least carry a trace of scarlet red.
Colombani’s first feature film as a director is refreshingly un-showy but is propelled by a palatable motivation, both of which mark her as one of the most interesting talents to emerge from this decade. Her direction just tells the film’s story and she doesn’t fall into the trap of letting the film’s plot get lost among all of a novice filmmaker’s new toys. He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not is a smart and ambitious film that works throughout its rather slim running time even when Colombani’s screenwriting sometimes slips, as in the first half when a little too much of Angelique’s neurosis is revealed.
The cast surrounding the luminous Tautou resonate quite nicely with special note going to Samuel Le Bihan as Loic, who is effectively the star of the film’s second (and more effective) half. Bihan, probably best known for his work in Kieslowski’s Red, had worked with Tautou early in her career on Venus Beauty Institute and he delivers a nicely tortured and paranoid performance for Colombani as does Isabelle Carre as his pregnant wife Rachel. The film also features several up and coming young French actors all in good form, including Clement Sibony and Elodie Navarre in a small but scene stealing performance as Loic’s incompetent secretary Anita.
The film belongs to Tautou though, who delivers a sublimely chilling, and at times heartbreaking performance centered on the idea of unrequited love. Audrey is at turns delightful and terrifying in the role and is never less than utterly convincing. Hats off to her as well for taking on a star role that essentially disappears for a good portion of the film. Tautou’s work here is strikingly unselfish and seems motivated by a strong personal force, and was entirely deserving of the acclaim in received upon the film’s release in Europe and the States.
He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not falters a bit here and there, more due to Colombani’s script than direction, but it’s a of little matter when listening to the striking Pino Donaggio styled score by Jerome Coullet or just watching Tautou delightfully subverting everything that was expected of her after Amelie.
Colombini’s film would receive a mostly positive critical reaction when it was released in France in the spring of 2002 and it would perform well at the box office. It would take a couple of years to reach American shores but it was mostly greeted positively here as well, with Mick LaSalle from The San Francisco Chronicle perhaps best summing it up best when he said, “This is an acerbic examination of erotic obsession, told from different perspectives, with wit, suspense and cold-blooded detachment. It's the first feature from 26-year-old Laetitia Colombani and represents about as assured a debut as they come.”
The film is available looking DVD from Columbia TriStar but unfortunately has no extras, not even a trailer. The French version, which I haven’t seen, reportedly has a commentary and deleted scenes.
Colombani is currently wrapping up production on Mes Stars et Moi, a sure to be intriguing film featuring the combined talents of Catherine Deneuve and Emmanuelle Beart.