Futuristic French cyber-flick sees the world through the computer monitor of an unseen agrophobe
A futuristic cyber-flick about a French agrophobe who interacts with the outside world only through his highly interactive computer, "Thomas In Love" will be seen by many as nothing but a gimmick since the whole picture is shot as if the movie screen was Thomas' monitor. The main character never appears on camera -- we only hear his voice (Benoit Verhaert).
But this gimmick is nothing more than a way to turn two rapidly merging mediums -- film and the internet -- on their ears, and to focus on that aspect alone is to miss the point. "Thomas In Love" is a fascinating, provocative, and surprisingly warm and personal commentary on the direction of modern social obsessions and technological trends.
Thomas hasn't left his apartment or allowed any visitors to enter in eight years. His fear of the outside world is so acute that even watching a video of himself on the beach as child triggers a minor panic attack. He's been living off of generous disability checks all this time and communicates with his fed-up and borderline incompetent corporate psychologist by "visiophone" every day. In a last-ditch attempt to shake Thomas out of his tree, the shrink (Frederic Topart) signs him up for a computer dating service, essentially forcing his patient to accept visiophone interruptions from lonely women several times a day.
Not that Thomas's days are particularly full. Director Pierre-Paul Renders makes that much readily apparent from the film's opening scene of a Lara Croft-like animated boy toy bimbo cooing and moaning as Thomas's digitized hands roam her body through the aid of a virtual sex suit jacked into his computer system.
But when real women start calling, he's deliberately inimical -- if for no other reason than that he knows he's wasting their time since he'll never go out to meet them or allow them to call upon him.
It isn't long, however, before Thomas is thrown for a loop by two of the women he "meets." One is Melodie (Magali Pinglaut), an attractive but plain girl with some personality quirks of her own who is matched up with Thomas through the dating service and isn't put off by his chilly reception. The other is Eva (Aylin Yay), a troubled exotic beauty whom Thomas fixates on while surfing for prostitutes -- sanctioned as a form of therapy by the insurance that pays his bills -- as an act of defiance toward his shrink.
Unaccustomed to repeated, long term interaction with any real woman other than his well-meaning mother (Micheline Hardy) who hassles him several times a week, Thomas badly mishandles his pursuit of both women, eventually becoming desperately smitten by Eva's visible melancholy. His rushed declarations of love are met with a challenge to leave his apartment and rescue her from her life of prostitution (an "alternative sentence" she chose after being convicted of a crime).
Eerily but cartoonishly digital in atmosphere, "Thomas In Love" is part satire of the artificiality of internet sociology and part spoof of futuristic cinema (everyone dresses in loud, plastic outfits and wears Arabic symbols painted on their faces). But at the same time it's an entirely absorbing vivisection of post-modern neuroses and fears taken to their apogee.
Renders does a wonderfully integrated job of depicting a vivid near-future through what we see on Thomas's computer screen (my favorite background touch was picture frames on people's walls that morph through several images). But even more remarkable is how we come to understand Thomas's psyche without ever seeing him. His quiet voice but vaguely anti-social manners tell much, but even more can be gleaned from the way he uses his computer to both buffer himself from the outside world and bring select parts of that world into sharp focus, as when he manually zooms in on someone's face during a visiophone conversation to search for hidden feelings in their smallest expressions.
All this contributes to the extraordinary fact that in spite of its theoretically static format -- not because of it -- "Thomas In Love" is never boring. Not even when Thomas goes about day-to-day business like talking to his lawyer or calling to have his space-age vacuum repaired.
This film may not have much of a shelf life. Twenty years from now it could well seem downright laughable. But as an unorthodox character study, as a seriocomic meditation on the future of our society, and even as a search for companionship and love, it is a stimulating and unexpectedly satisfying cinematic experiment.