Romantics Anonymous (Les émotifs anony)

France (2010) Dir. Jean-Pierre Améris

Angélique Delange (Isabelle Carré) is afraid of almost everything and attends a support group to help her deal with it. Her only true passion is chocolate and she is exceptionally good at making it which leads her to apply for a job at the small Chocolate Mill factory, unaware it was for the position of sales rep. Fortunately factory owner Jean-René Van Den Hugde (Benoît Poelvoorde) is smitten by Angélique and her love of chocolate and gives her job there and then. However Jean-René is also a social failure, receiving help from a therapist, creating a very interesting situation when the hapless pair fall in love.

A simple tale based on simple premise with a little added French quirkiness is what one gets from this charming outing that delights from the get go. Based loosely on the real shyness problems of writer/director Jean-Pierre Améris and inestimable leading lady Isabelle Carré, both of whom visited real life Emotions Anonymous groups as a result, we have a heartwarming tale that gives hope to the least of us in matters of the heart (and chocolate).

Angélique’s passion for chocolate leads to her taking a chocolate making course where she impressed everyone around her, only her social inabilities let her down. A white (chocolate?) knight arrives in the form of M. Mercier (Claude Aufaure), a fellow shy guy and chocolate maker. He offers Angélique a job of making chocolate for him while remaining anonymous, under the pretence of being a hermit living in the mountains. This lasts until Mercier dies which brings us to where the film begins. Jean-René is equally gauche, avoiding handshakes and physical contact while burning up whenever he is around a pretty woman. An awkwardly arranged dinner date at a fancy restaurant gives us an amusing scene as Jean-René goes to great – and embarrassing – lengths to hide his problem. When Jean-René flees the restaurant Angélique thinks it is something she did but shrugs it off. The pair are inevitably forced together in close proximity courtesy of a hotel mix up meaning a shared room while they are away at a chocolate convention.

As you can see the conventions and clichés of the rom-com are well observed here but that doesn’t make this any the less an enjoyable watch, while tentatively highlighting a serious and maligned problem many people – this writer included – suffers from. I say “tentatively” as the shyness and social ineptitude of the characters is a mere trait that serves as a convenient reference point for comedy rather than a subject for cinematic exploration. Améris presumably didn’t want to beat the audience over the head with this so he kept the issue as a plot device rather than a focal point for the story, instead relying on the calamitous romance to carry the story and allow us to spend some time with the characters.

For someone apparently scared of the world around her, Angélique has more moxy than most of us shy people do, although her awkwardness manifests itself in some peculiar foibles to the observer. Jean-René again doesn’t seem to be too unsettled by his issues but he hides it well, especially around the small staff at the factory. This is a small complaint as our two leads convey their internal handicaps well enough when the need arises but for a touch more verisimilitude and, at the risk of sounding cruel, great comic potential. But at a swift 74 minutes in length, there is little time for such developments and attention to this. That said, this paltry running time is used to full effect and a nice and quite eventful story unfolds, exploring some interesting and amusing situations along the way.  

Isabelle Carré is the prefect choice for the role of Angélique, with her wonderfully expressive wide eyes and adorable elfin-like features. Despite a successful twenty plus year career in both film and theatre, she remains an underrated actress compared to the attention and plaudits some of her contemporaries but her performances are always delightful and memorable. Here she is called upon to add another whimsical pixie-esque characterisation which she handles with a nuanced sense of realism, making Angélique such an easy character to support and empathise with, she makes Amélie seem like a Hells Angel! Benoît Poelvoorde looks (and is) a lot older than Carré which makes for a visual mismatch but his effortless essaying of the bumbling, awkward Jean-René gives us another conduit for our support. There is sufficient chemistry between Poelvoorde and Carré to make this a believable tale of two lost souls finding each other, which is helped by the solid if purely functional support cast of the Chocolate Mill staff, who provide suitable comic addenda when necessary.

Romantics Anonymous might be a by-the-book rom-com but don’t let that put you off from checking it out. Its gentle charm is suffused with a Gallic twist that travels exceptionally well and the two central performances captivate from the first frame. It’s an undemanding but totally satisfying little treat of a film.

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