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[whitespace] 'Thomas in Love'
Video-Conferencing, Worst-Case Scenario: Serge Lariviere pops up on the visiophone of the protagonist of the mordant comedy 'Thomas in Love.'

Cyber Shut-ins

The hero of 'Thomas in Love' can't handle the truth of the outside

By Richard von Busack

FEW MOVIES have parodied cyberculture with the amusing bleakness of the Belgian import Thomas in Love. Although it's set in the near future, this story of an agoraphobic--a man in terror of going outdoors--rings true for today's voluntary shut-ins. The unseen hero (voiced by Benoît Verhaert) is a young retired computer programmer who hasn't left his house in eight years. He's been clinically diagnosed with a fear of the world outside and is on disability supervised by the Globale Corporation, his HMO.

We see everything through his eyes. Thus, the camera never leaves his "visiophone" as he takes care of his rounds over the course of a couple of weeks. Naturally, Thomas' day starts with a computer-animated sex program. The XXX animation here isn't that good, but it's good enough to spur the evil idea that the kind of artistry displayed in Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within might be more profitably turned to porno.

After his little wake-up session with the sextoon, Thomas fields calls from his pushy mother and starts a round of errands. The most important appointment is a session with his shrink. Thomas is at the mercy of his suspicious psychiatrist (Frédéric Topart, made up in the traditional mad-scientist's bald head and chin-cabbage beard). The doctor has signed up Thomas for a dating service. While sorting through these unwanted phone calls from single women, he surfs for computer prostitutes, assigned to tend the housebound handicapped (it's all covered by insurance).

Meanwhile, Thomas gets a series of visiophone calls from the most promising dating-service candidate, Melodie (Magali Pinglaut, a pert European version of Jennifer Connelly). She's a friendly weirdette, who shyly reveals her "video poems" to Thomas. These short films--one gazes at her navel, the other gazes at her foot--prove that the girl is as self-possessed as Thomas.

We anticipate the idea that some kind of love will at last draw the scared Thomas out of his cyberwomb. So the last minutes of the film inspire a similar urge to go outside and get some daylight. But director Pierre-Paul Renders crafts these people as characters, not caricatures--Pinglaut, in particular, gives the film a little spice and sweetness. He's created a lot of future with very little money, and the sets are diverse enough to prevent claustrophobia. Also amusing are the religious trappings draped around the Globale Corporation. Perhaps they did a leveraged buyout of the Catholic Church? Imagine the HMOs controlling not just this world, but the next. Philippe Blasband's script, reminiscent of Philip K. Dick and the Firesign Theater, seems prophetic already. Some viewers may want to wait until it comes onto video though--I mean, it's not really safe out there on the streets, is it?

Thomas in Love (Unrated; 97 min.), directed Pierre-Paul Renders, written by Philippe Blasband, photographed by Virginie Saint-Martin and starring Benoît Verhaert and Magalie Pinglaut, opens Friday at the Towne Theater in San Jose.

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From the August 2-8, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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