Choc full of gentle, but not gooey, comedy
Reviewer's rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
- Romantic Comedy
- Running time
- 80 min
- Jean-Pierre Ameris
- Screen writer
- Jean-Pierre Ameris, Philippe Blasband
- Isabelle Carre, Benoit Poelvoorde
- OFLC rating
Directed by Jean-Pierre Ameris
Written by Jean-Pierre Ameris and Philippe Blasband
Rated M, 77 minutes
Palace Verona and Norton Street, Cremorne, Hoyts Cinema Paris, Collaroy, Avalon, Avoca Beach, Dendy Opera Quays
A GROUP of men and women sit in a circle, looking supportive. Angelique (Isabelle Carre), a woman in her mid-30s, speaks her name then the French word for ''emotional''. Everyone responds with ''Hi, Angelique'', as in an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. The effort of so much self-revelation overwhelms her: she slides off the chair in a dead faint.
No one is normal, after all … a group of chocolatiers at a struggling factory provide the backdrop to this gentle comedy in which every character has their own quirks.
In this case, ''emotional'' seems to mean nervous, although most of these people could be admitted to that hospital in Mel Brooks's High Anxiety, the Psychoneurotic Institute for the Very, Very Nervous. They are pathologically shy, barely able to function in the wider world. Even though this is a comedy, and a pretty good one, the director does not place himself above his characters. One French review suggests the film is partly based on his personal experience. There is certainly some intelligence, tact and emotion in the way Jean-Pierre Ameris depicts their lives. It is not a cruel film.
Angelique is passionate about chocolate. A flashback shows she attended the top French school for chocolate-makers, where she excelled. Her chocolates are described in minute and loving detail, in the way you hear only in French films. They are subtle, yet sensual, with a dash of piquancy, a pleasing and creative layering of flavours, etc. Her teachers are impressed, but she has to leave. The panic attacks are too much.
Seven years later, she still keeps her skills to herself, but she longs to re-enter the world of cacao. She applies for a job at a chocolate factory, a once successful business, now almost bankrupt. The boss, Jean-Rene (Benoit Poelvoorde), is abrupt and distant; he hides his shyness by being gruff. He hires her on the spot, partly because he can't face the stress of more than one interview. He, too, is ''emotional''. He gives her the job of saving the factory through her sales efforts. Thus, a woman with a God-given talent for making chocolate has to do the one thing she's worst-equipped for - talking to strangers.
Romantics Anonymous is a gentle comedy of foibles, large and small. Each character is carefully placed off-centre, somewhere between quirky and ''emotional''. No one is normal, after all. It could have been wearing, but the film trips along on high energy and a straight face, and two central performances of genuine comic invention. Poelvoorde is a familiar face, but not quite at this level, as leading man. Carre has had a long career as well, and never quite made the front rank of French stars. For both, the film is a chance to flower, and they do.
Angelique is a pretty, auburn-haired woman who looks permanently startled. She whispers, breathless, forcing herself to speak: every human communication is an ordeal, and she must will herself to be brave. Jean-Rene has to maintain a cloak of calmness, although he is roiling and fretting inside. ''I have no problem with women,'' he tells his shrink. ''They just terrify me. That's all.'' There's a beautiful comic scene worthy of Chaplin in which he asks Angelique to dinner, at a posh restaurant. She arrives early, as always. He hides a small attache case in the men's room, so that he can change his shirt three times during the meal. That's how much he sweats.
The film is short and modest, but so skilfully executed that it's a treat and a refuge. Offence cannot be taken, nor liberties with our expectations. One French reviewer said it was like an American comedy of the 1930s or '40s; The New York Times said it was a ''singularly Gallic fairytale''. I would say it is subtle, yet sensual, with a dash of piquancy, and a pleasing and creative layering of flavours.
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