Wednesday, January 25, 2012

"Romantics Anonymous" No More

Playing in Theaters
"Romantics Anonymous" No More

(from 7/30/11)

Among all the edgy films at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival was Jean-Pierre Ameris's amiable French comedy Romantics Anonymous. It features a difficult romance between shy Jean-Rene (familiar French character actor Benoit Poelvoorde), the owner of a struggling chocolate company, and his pretty new sales rep, Angelique (the charming Isabelle Carre), who is too shy to tell him that she is a fabulous chocolate maker. When I saw the film I thought it was too mainstream to be a festival entry, but now I believe its exploration of its characters painful common trait--on the surface, they seem to be merely super shy but the director sees them as also being hyper-emotional--is done with more sensitivity than what might find in an outright comedy. It is a theme close to the director, who had never made a comedy before. I enjoyed doing this brief interview with the tall, friendly Ameris, through a translator. This was a few weeks before Tribeca Films picked it up for theatrical release.
Danny Peary: You're a big movie fan. I know you like Peter Sellers. Can you picture Sellers in this film?

Jean-Pierre Amris: That would have been wonderful. These are the actors and old films that I would tell my actors to think of as they were acting. Peter Sellers was one. Among the actresses were Margaret Sullavan in Shop Around the Corner and Ginger Rogers in Vivacious Lady by George Stevens.
DP: I'm interested in shyness, but you try to distinguish between the emotional and the shy. Aren't these two characters both?
JPA: Yes, I definitely think that they do have both components, and I think that shyness is part of being emotional, but what I'm talking about in this movie is being hyper-emotional. I want to show people that have this really strong desire to live, to love, and to be successful, but are held back, as if there were an elastic that is retaining them. And because of this, they are ready to explode, like a volcano; they have all this pent-up energy, they have this great desire that is pent up. When it does get a chance to come out, it does so in an explosive way.
DP: You actually made a comedy about painful things.
JPA: It is hard to do a comedy about these things. This is my first comedy, actually, and it is a very complicated art. But I decided it was going to be a comedy right away; this was almost imposed by the subject itself. If you think of doing what the male lead does--leaving a restaurant through the bathroom door just because you realize you have the wrong shirt on--well, you'd think it was tragic. And of course you;d be so ashamed, but if you imagine the character telling this story to somebody else, it's hilarious.
It's the nature of the comedic element: you have something that would be really hard in reality, but once it's told, it becomes funny.
DP: One of the actors says that there were a lot of takes sometimes. Does that have do with the fact that it was a comedy, and you didn't want to get the tone wrong on certain things? Or do you do many takes all the time?
JPA: I've always done a lot of takes, that's my way of working. Having said that, I'm not Robert Bresson, who does fifty takes. A reason that I did that here is the way that my male lead acts. Benoit Poelvoorde is a great improv comedian. I always had to take him back to his character Jean-Rene. I always needed to show him that this man doesn't want to show what he has inside. Benoit was overdoing it, and my role was to contain him and bring him back to sobriety.
DP: The first time he sees her, does he know she's the one?
JPA: I don't think the first time he thinks she's the one. When she comes to the interview, I think he's just panicked by the idea of having to interview anybody, and a woman on top of it.
DP: And she's pretty.

JPA: He's a character who's afraid of his desire, so when he finds her attractive, he's even more overcome by anxiety.
DP: Why does she fall in love with him?
JPA: Well, they definitely share a common bond: a passion for chocolate. Also, they're two people who have the same emotional issues, and at some level they probably perceive it, they feel it. Actually, there's also another big component--there is a lack of communication. When she first sees him, she thinks he's very self-assured, he's the owner of a company. In a way, they both fall in love with what they think the other person is, which is exactly the opposite of what the other person actually is. He thinks that she's the sales rep, that she knows what she's doing, and she has no idea. In life, it's all a matter of strategy. We all think of how to position ourselves when we show ourselves in society. A lot of people choose to pretend they're tough and hard when actually they're very fragile inside. So it's really a movie about this game that they play, and that becomes comedy.
DP: They see each other as they would like to be seen. Does that make sense?

JPA: It's really about the imagination, the projections that we cast on another person. We think about what other people might think of us, and then we play with that.
DP: He can never show his real self, because he flubs it. And she always flubs it, but they can both see past that.
JPA: They overcome the mask.
DP: Did you always know you were going to do a fantasy?
JPA: Yes. It was the idea of their getting married at the end; in a fairy tale there must be a wedding at the end. But two people like them can't get married; it is too hard for them. The idea was to show that they would continue to go on fearing everything but doing that together is much less sad than if they had to do it alone.

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