Jan 4, 2009

Why haven't you seen... 3

Launching Why haven’t you seen…? In what will hopefully become its regular Sunday slot I’ve got a special treat: a double bill of great films that share a theme, an actor and a country of origin. Yes it’s the long awaited double bill of French films about erotomania, featuring Isabelle Carre; don’t pretend you weren’t expecting it.

À la Folie… Pas du Tout
[He Loves Me… He Loves Me Not] (2002)
Dir: Laetitia Colombani


Anna M (2007)
Dir: Michel Spinosa

What are they all about?
As I mentioned in the introduction both films deal with erotomania, a clinical condition that causes a person to fixate on another, to believe that they are in love, and that their feelings are reciprocated. More specifically both films deal with female erotomaniacs. In He Loves Me… Audrey Tautou plays a woman obsessed with a married doctor, while Isabelle Carre plays much the same part in Anna M. Where the films diverge is in their tone and style.

Why haven’t you seen them?
In Anna M’s case at least it’s likely that you’ve not previously heard of it. Its only UK cinema release was at the ICA, for about two weeks, while He Loves Me… He Loves Me Not, never really took advantage of Audrey Tautou’s increased profile after Amelie with a wide release.

Why should you see them?
He Loves Me… He Loves Me Not is a misleading film from its title on down. Packaged like a romantic comedy, and playing out like that for its first 40 minutes. The film has a truly audacious structure, particularly for a first film by a 26-year-old director. It tells its story, seemingly a comedy about Tautou’s unrequited love for doctor Samuel Le Bihan up to a pivotal point, then rewinds, and plays the same events again, this time from the point of view of Le Bihan, and wife Isabelle Carre, to much different effect. So many films try to juggle opposing tones like this, and even great and experienced filmmakers have come seriously unstuck in the process, but Colombani doesn’t miss a beat, and nor do her actors.

Casting Audrey Tautou is a clever move, because her kooky personality and onscreen magnetism make the second half of the film even more effective, as you realise just what is really going on and little events that get passed over in the films first part are filled in. I don’t want to say too much about how the film unfolds, because the way it pulls the rug from under you is one of its chief joys, but it’s not often that you’re laughing out loud one minute, unnerved the next, and the move between the two feels so natural.

If He Loves Me... is part comedy (think Amelie meets Fatal Attraction, only better than that implies) Anna M is its darker dramatic sibling. This time Isabelle Carre plays the obsessive, rather than someone affected by an obsession. The structure of Anna M is more conventional, and rather than the ensemble piece that He loves Me… is Anna M is almost a one woman show for the extraordinary performance of Isabelle Carre, who throws herself bodily into the part, going at times to painful looking extremes.

Anna M’s darker hue makes it a harder film to love, but probably a more impactful one at the end of the day, but you have to be alert. It took me 3 watches to spot the meaning of the films final shot, which completely altered my take on what I had previously felt was an unneeded last fifteen minutes. Both films have lead characters that should be unsympathetic, but both actresses carry us with them. Tautou does it through sheer magnetism, and Carre through sympathy, because her Anna is so obviously unwell, I really can’t give you better reasons to see these films than their respective leads.

How can you see them?
Happily both films are available on UK DVD, but only He Loves Me… He Loves Me Not can be had in the US. The UK dvd is the one to go for though, as it has almost the full complement of extras from the French edition, including Colombani’s excellent short Le Dernier Bip.

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