He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not (France, 2002)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Note to readers: This review contains spoilers. I have taken care not to reveal all of the movie's secrets, but anyone who has not seen He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not and wishes to be surprised by every aspect of the picture would do better to read this review after seeing the film.

The first thing the average viewer will notice in He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not are roses of all colors – bright reds, blushing pinks, delicate pastels. The second thing the viewer will see are the pixie-like features of Audrey Tautou, a mischievous smile playing about her lips. Taken in concert, these introductory elements tease the movie-goer into mistakenly believing that he or she is watching a romantic fantasy in the vein of Amelie. The truth, however, is darker and, in many ways, more fun.

The French have an enviable history of crafting thrillers – one that dates back to when Clouzot was battling Hitchcock for the title of "Master of Suspense." Over the years, while Hollywood thrillers have become cliché-riddled and banal, the French have managed to keep their fare fresh and surprising. With a Friend Like Harry and Read My Lips are only two of the recent, superior French thrillers to reach these shores. Add He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not to that list. This movie is all the more delicious because it so thoroughly trumps expectations.

When the movie opens, we think it's going to be a lightweight romance. Shortly thereafter, we're convinced that this is some sort of melodrama about an impressionable young girl who has fallen in love with, and been used by, a married man. But the truth has yet to be discovered. The production, which traverses a path that is grows continually darker and more twisty, saves its biggest surprises for the final half, when it takes a number of risks, all of which pay off.

He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not tells one story from two points of view. Unlike Kurosawa in Rashomon, director Laetitia Colombani does not argue that truth is subjective. In fact, a key aspect of the movie is that one of the points-of-view is more reliable than the other. I won't reveal which one it is, but, once you have seen the movie, you won't have any doubts about who represents the more credible narrator: the young artist Angelique (Tautou) or the older, married doctor, Loic (Samuel Le Bihan), with whom she is madly in love, but who does not return her affections.

27-year old Colombani, making her feature debut, deserves most of the credit for the film's success. The way she plays with perspective is brilliant. There is an explanation for all that happens, and the manner in which Colombani ties everything together will satisfy even most nit-pickers. He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not works better on a second viewing than most thrillers, because the plot is more of a puzzle than an exercise in suspense. When watching the movie for a second or third time, you understand what's going on and are able to pay attention to the details of Colombani's craftsmanship. In the end, there are no difficulties reconciling seeming discrepancies between Angelique's perspective and Loic's.

Audrey Tautou is perfect for the part. Angelique is a much different individual than Amelie, yet the actresses' strong association with her previous role allows her to toy with our expectations. In fact, this role requires more range than Tautou's lead in Amelie, and the actress has no difficulty venturing into darker territory. She is ably matched by Samuel Le Bihan (Grégoire in Brotherhood of the Wolf), who, like Tautou, is required to play two radically different versions of the same individual. Sophie Guillermin, the sexpot girlfriend from With a Friend Like Harry, has a supporting role as Angelique's best friend.

It's difficult to overstate how much of a rare find this movie is. Colombani and her cast remind us that the best thrillers are built upon superb writing and strong acting. He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not has both, and the result is a surprising and devious motion picture where one person's viewpoint represents only half of the story.

He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not (France, 2002)

Ranked #5 in Berardinelli's Top 10 of 2003
Run Time: 1:32
U.S. Release Date: 2003-02-14
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Mature Themes)
Subtitles: English subtitled French
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1