Angélique (Audrey Tautou) seems to embody the dreamy side of the game of love. She glows with an unnatural inner light as she chooses a single burgundy-tinted rose to send to her lover, Loïc (Samuel Le Bihan). Romance, little red hearts and rockin’ Europop surround her as she smiles throughout her jaunt in the city just before riding her bike to art school.
For actress Audrey Tautou, Angélique immediately appears to be an extension of her quirky, wholesome, highly imaginative and outrageously adorable character in the hit movie Amélie, released only a year before this film. But the veneer of perfect love begins to peel away as soon as we find out Angélique’s great love is a married man. She’s forced to sneak around parties to be with him and is often left all-made-up and waiting on the couch for her “already taken” guy. Soon, we see a not-so-sweet and very adult version of “he loves me, he loves me not” — very typical too, as we hear her try to convince her friends that Loïc’s planning to leave his wife to marry her. But just when you think you have it all figured out, you realize this heart-twisting game has only just begun.
For her first feature film, director Laetitia Colombani has bitten off a sizable chunk to chew. The script, co-written by Caroline Thivel, is a product of Colombani’s film school thesis subject — madness — mixed with inspiration from watching The Sixth Sense. Add a touch of Mulholland Drive and a bag of heart-shaped jujubees, and you’ll just about have the flavor of He Loves Me. Although it’s nice to watch, with many wonderful touches, you sometimes get the feeling that Colombani took on this project like a kid in a candy store, trying to use as many bits as possible of her favorite movies and cinematic devices.
As if the camera had its own rose-colored glasses, when love shines on Angélique, clear, vibrant colors, especially pinks and rich reds, accent her movements. But when her love life is looking grim, blues and greens overshadow the scenes like a coming storm. Colombani employs clever time-lapse cutting and fading; she overlaps dialogue to bleed scenes into scenes; she cross-cuts between mirroring actions (like Angélique riding her bike to art school as the flower delivery guy rides his moped to Loïc’s office); and at a crucial life-threatening crossroad, she reverses the film back to the beginning to fill in information vacancies for the audience.
When Angélique tucks her friend’s little sister, Léa, into bed, she tells her how she lived in her father’s art studio as a child. He wouldn’t let her have a cat for fear the hairs would stick to his paintings, so she made a cat out of scraps.
“Others saw it as a collage, but to me it was Mr. Cat.”
A matter-of-fact anecdote to entertain a child turns out to be the only uncolored hint at a past that has pieced together her present situation. Because of Colombani’s multiple points of view, from one side of the flower to the other, the film itself has a collaged feel, with a few sticky aspects.
Tautou easily tucks the sunny side of the emotional spectrum in her pocket, but the dark side of the psyche has trouble breaking through her starry-eyed disposition. What helps to illustrate the turmoil surging within Angélique is the director’s artistic eye and visual language. Angélique is housesitting and put in charge of a very rare desert plant, a wedding gift to the owners. It can only survive in the house, under a glass case at a constant temperature, but even under these ideal conditions, this surreal symbol of growth-in-union begins to deteriorate along with the state of Angélique’s love affair.
In the hands of a director fascinated by insanity and re-inspection of it from a new, “fresh as a daisy” perspective, an innocent game played with the petals of a flower and the fluctuations of the heart have never seemed so desperate.
Opens Friday exclusively at the Maple Art Theatre (4135 W. Maple, west of Telegraph). Call 248-542-0180.
Anita Schmaltz writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail email@example.com.