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Dir. Laetitia Colombani; writ. Colombani, Caroline Thivel; feat. Audrey Tautou, Samuel Le Bihan, Isabelle Carré, Clément Sibony, Sophie Guillemin (NR)

Turns out French cinephiles can be just as catty as R&B queens. The record-breaking success of Amélie hit many serious moviegoers in the same way Titanic's box office devastated die-hard Star Wars fans; Amélie's hyperactive

Audrey Tautou stars in He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not.
cuteness and willfully naïve romanticism was an affront to everything they valued. He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not is the answer: a deliberate, sadistic exercise that pretends to be concerned with psychological disorders when all it really wants to do is put Amélie's Audrey Tautou (and her fans) through the wringer. Unfortunately, the filmmakers are unable to dissect their target's supposedly simple-minded romance without rising to new heights of cynical manipulation themselves.

Tautou again plays a girl in love with love, a painting student who showers her boyfriend with cutesy affectionate gestures. We meet her in a flower shop, where she is surrounded by valentines and happy music. Where her friends see obstacles (her boyfriend is married to someone else, for instance), she has unwavering faith. When they see doubt (but she's five months pregnant!), she trusts in fate. And fate seems to be complying, until suddenly it isn't and things start to go very badly.

Then, in the middle of the film, the tale rewinds to the beginning. Now valentines are replaced with real aortas and the music is sinister instead of chirpy. Little Audrey, we learn, isn't the married man's lover after all; she's a stalker. The movie shows us how every signal it has given us up to now was wrong - and weren't we gullible to believe them!

Well, no. The ways the movie discredits its first half are enormously contrived; and since the "real" story that unfolds in the second half is uncompelling, we halfway expect it to be a hoax as well. We all know that movies are an illusion, and other films have done a far more agile job of using cinema's tricky nature to make us identify with a delusional character. So there's little to see here except the mean-spirited rejection of a popular movie. Which is unfortunate, because as aficionados of old "answer" songs can tell you; the answer only became a hit if it was fun to listen to on its own. •

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February 24, 2021

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