Welcome to the world of virtual living. What if you could do everything from the comfort of your home: shopping, visiting with friends via videophone, doing errands, even having cyber-sex? What kind of life would that be, and what kind of a person would that make you? In the case of Thomas, the protagonist of Thomas in Love, it makes him a lonely man. Starved for some sort of human contact that he can't quite articulate, he's looking for love...digitally.
Thomas in Love (Thomas est amoureux) is a highly original movie; what's more, it manages to capitalize on its own originality to create a story that's amusing, engaging, entertaining, and certainly very memorable. The story centers quite literally around Thomas, whose face we never actually see, because the entire film is made up of what Thomas himself sees on his videophone. We get to know Thomas as he runs a virtual reality program on his monitor, takes calls from his mother or his psychiatrist, makes a call to his insurance company or the appliance repairman. There's no exposition, but there is definitely a story, which we see slowly unfolding as we learn about Thomas from his conversations with others. You see, Thomas has a problem. But I'm not going to spill the beans on what exactly it is, because seeing it unfold in the film is part of the fun.
The world of Thomas in Love is clearly a futuristic one, though one that's not too far from our own. It's extremely well realized and believable: the characters treat their world as we treat our own, as entirely normal and ordinary. Thomas isn't particularly excited by the fact that he has a robot vacuum cleaner; he's simply irritated by the fact that it's not working and that the repair service is giving him a hard time about fixing it. (Some things, evidently, never change.)
We see the entire story through Thomas' videophone, and the quality of the image depends on the quality of the connection: crystal-clear in the case of his virtual-reality program, or the connection to his insurance agent or psychiatrist's main office; grainier and lower-resolution when he's talking with someone on the equivalent of a pay phone; and quite lousy when he's taking a call from someone's mobile videophone. It's a well-handled conceit that does an excellent job of grounding the viewer in Thomas' futuristic world.
The omnipresence of the videophones is the most obvious futuristic element, but it's far from the only one. One of the most interesting signals of the difference between our world and Thomas' is the fact that nearly all the characters wear some kind of tattoo or stylized makeup on their faces, ranging from very subtle, small symbols to extravagant decorations. It's entirely believable that this has become a common personal decoration, much like earrings are today, and just as the range between a tiny stud earring and a gigantic pair of hoops says something to us about the personality of the wearer, so too does the facial makeup of the people in Thomas' world tell us something about them.
The performances are all played entirely straight, allowing us to believe in Thomas and his friends as real people with genuine concerns, but the film is also nicely leavened with a witty humor. Thomas in Love is a playful film, providing some laugh-out-loud moments along with its generally quirky look at life in the future.
It would have been entirely possible for a film like Thomas in Love to get fixated on the creativity of its presentation, and neglect its content; fortunately, what makes this film so much fun is that it uses its clever presentation as a means to tell its story. Throughout the film, there's always something unfolding to keep us engaged: at first, simply the curiosity factor of "what's going on here?"; then, the mystery of what, exactly, is strange about Thomas. Finally, the story shifts to a story about Thomas' emotional state, which is in the midst of a bit of a crisis as we meet him. The last portion of the story is almost a little bit too long, but it manages not to overdo it; in the end, Thomas in Love is a perfect length to introduce its character and setting, tell its story, and wrap the whole thing up in a satisfying and intriguing manner.
Thomas in Love is presented in a very attractive 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The image quality is extremely good, offering a sharp, clear, and colorful visual presentation of the film. The print is very clean, and I didn't notice any noise or flaws as I watched the film. It's actually essential to the film that the transfer quality be very high, because the film itself uses different levels of image quality on purpose, as I mentioned in the main body of the review. Colors, like the image quality overall, are deliberately varied: some are deliberately muted, while most are bright and vivid. In all cases, the colors are clean and attractive; Thomas in Love is visually outstanding.
The one detracting element in the transfer is that the English subtitles are burned in, so French speakers won't have the option to turn them off. They are at least well-done subtitles, in white with black outlines, and are easy to read.
Thomas in Love is entirely composed of Thomas' videophone conversations; we wouldn't expect an extensive surround experience in any case, so the French Dolby 2.0 track is more than sufficient. (The DVD cover states that it has a 5.1 track, but this doesn't seem to be the case.) It's a well-balanced track, with the dialogue very clear and distinct at all times; miscellaneous sound effects are also incorporated nicely. The side channels are put to good use, creating a nicely immersive overall effect; all in all, it's an excellent soundtrack.
The main special feature is a twenty-minute "making of" featurette, which features director Pierre-Paul Renders talking about his production. It's in French with English subtitles. A short three-minute piece takes a look at the making of the animated sections of the film as well.
For minor special features, we get two trailers for the film (French and international), a text director's biography, and a listing of other films available from New Video. Although it says so on the back cover of the DVD, there are no cast and crew interviews, however.
The menus are attractively themed to the film, and are easy to navigate.
Thomas in Love was a refreshing and complete surprise: a totally different style of movie, charming, fresh, funny, and interesting. With its frank treatment of Thomas' sexual cyber-adventures, it's not for the prudish, but neither is it prurient; rather, it's a wry and witty look at human relationships and the need for love (and sex!) in anyone's life. This charming film, the winner of awards at both the Venice and Paris Film Festivals, has received an excellent DVD transfer from New Video (apart from the non-optional subtitles), and is highly recommended.