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Meet the 2011 Tribeca Filmmakers | "Romantics Anonymous" Director Jean-Pierre Ameris

By Indiewire | Indiewire April 18, 2011 at 2:20AM

A recent surprise hit in France, the delectable comedy "Romantics Anonymous" tells the story of Angélique Delange (Isabelle Carré, "Private Fears in Public Places"), an unemployed but gifted chocolate-maker with a lifelong case of uncontrollable shyness that prevents her from properly sharing her confectionary talents. Jean-René Van Den Hugde (Benoît Poelvoorde, "Coco Before Chanel") suffers from a similar case of terminal abashment and runs a fledgling chocolate company in desperate need of a new direction. When Jean-René hires Angélique as the new sales associate, the two nervous Nellies must face their deepest fears. With the chocolate business hanging in the balance, they are forced to fess up to their hidden sweet affections for each other.
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A recent surprise hit in France, the delectable comedy "Romantics Anonymous" tells the story of Angélique Delange (Isabelle Carré, "Private Fears in Public Places"), an unemployed but gifted chocolate-maker with a lifelong case of uncontrollable shyness that prevents her from properly sharing her confectionary talents. Jean-René Van Den Hugde (Benoît Poelvoorde, "Coco Before Chanel") suffers from a similar case of terminal abashment and runs a fledgling chocolate company in desperate need of a new direction. When Jean-René hires Angélique as the new sales associate, the two nervous Nellies must face their deepest fears. With the chocolate business hanging in the balance, they are forced to fess up to their hidden sweet affections for each other.

Co-screenwriters Jean-Pierre Améris and Philippe Blasband have prepared a deliciously witty script filled with rich characters that are packed with honesty and humor. Director Améris teases out the fairy-tale quality of this timid romance while grounding the film's charm and spirit firmly in its lovable and authentic protagonists and their quest for emotional freedom. Carré and Poelvoorde give nuanced and hilarious performances and radiate on-screen chemistry. [Synopsis courtesy of the Tribeca Film Festival]

[indieWIRE invited directors with films in the Tribeca Narrative, Documentary and Viewpoints sections to submit responses in their own words about their films. These profiles are being published through the beginning of the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival. To prompt the discussion, indieWIRE asked the filmmakers about what inspired their films, the challenges they faced and other general questions. They were also free to add additional comments related to their projects.]

"Romantics Anonymous"
World Narrative Competition
Primary Cast: Benoît Poelvoorde, Isabelle Carré, Lorella Cravotta, Lise Lamétrie, Swann Arlaud, Pierre Niney
Director(s): Jean-Pierre Améris
Screenwriter: Jean-Pierre Améris, Philippe Blasband
Producer(s): Nathalie Gastaldo, Philippe Godeau
Editor: Philippe Bourgueil
Director of Photography: Gérald Simon (AFC)
Production Designer: Sylvie Olivé (ADC)
Unit Production Manager: Olivier Lagny
Music: Pierre Adenot

Responses courtesy of "Romantics Anonymous" director Jean-Pierre Ameris.

Early inspiration?

First, there was the pleasure and fascination of being a kid and going to see films with my parents who loved the movies. Then in adolescence, there was watching in awe all those great classics from great filmmakers like Bergman, Ford, Fellini, Buñuel, Hitchcock and so many others. It became an all-encompassing passion and all I did was watch movies. At age 15, I felt the need to make films myself and I shot several shorts. Watching films and making them is my life became my passion. What I like about directing is turning the images from my head into reality and creating a little world of my own.

Suffering from shyness...

I have always suffered from shyness and that’s why this film is the most autobiographical of all my films. It seems there must be a link between shyness and being a movie lover. At the movies, you’re safe in the darkened theater. You get to live vicariously adventures you’d never dare experience in real life.

The trigger for this movie was my own discovery of Emotions Anonymous in 2002, a discussion group based on the same principles as Alcoholics Anonymous. There, I met people of all ages and from all social classes for whom, like me, shyness is a real handicap to social relationships. I was very moved to realize that so many people suffer this affliction, without necessarily being able to confess it to their loved ones or their coworkers. Right from that moment, I was convinced there was a film to be made on this subject that would be very moving. I think we are all afraid of what other people think, to a greater or lesser degree.

Finding comedy in social anxiety...

Right from the start of the writing process, I was convinced the subject had to be treated as a comedy. When you are very shy and anxious about what other people think, you end up in situations which, even if they are painful, are often almost farcical. I have also noticed that all the great comedians like Keaton, Lewis, Peter Sellers and Adam Sandler are all highly emotional people. Farce was born from the embarrassment these people felt in social situations and the funny way they tried to extricate themselves from them.

Working with comedy...

The biggest challenge was, for the first time, taking a chance with the comedy genre. It requires great rigor at every stage of the process, from writing to directing and right down to the editing process. The challenge was to make a film that makes people laugh but which is always very realistic, very sincere and never forgets the pain the characters experience when confronted with hurdles such as love, advancing in one’s career and getting close to people.

Being on set...

The first paradox is that I am very anxious in life but much less so on a film set. This is because it's a place I love to be, a very protected environment. I do a lot of preparation and I have all the direction very precisely planned out in my mind. I’m in control and real life is less like that. With moviemaking, the great thing is that you can redo a scene when you get it wrong. In life, you only get one “take”. Another thing that was very moving for me was to see my actors, Benoît Poelvoorde and Isabelle Carré, embody so exactly and with so much sensitivity what I have always felt in life. Everything Jean-René’s character says to his shrink is totally autobiographical and that was very moving for me. It’s also funny to realize that through directing actors, I am able to communicate my own anxieties about the situations they find themselves in. As such, Benoît said that even though it never happens to him in real life, he had sweaty palms and a dry mouth like his character. The most difficult scene for him was the one where he has to sing in public, which is a situation where you really have to bare all.

Future aspirations...

I’d love to make Victor Hugo’s “The Man Who Laughs,” the story of a fairground monster. I’ve always loved films with monsters, like “Edward Scissorhands” by Tim Burton or “The Elephant Man” by David Lynch. I love characters who are different to others and who struggle to find their place in society.

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