If Romantics Anonymous had been called, say, Desperate Romantics or Chocolate Fiends Anonymous, it would have done good business here at my local in Avalon. But, alas, helas, despite its excellence (and its theme, two shy chocolate makers awkwardly, crashingly, miserably in love), it did not. It’s as good as the best episode of Love, Actually (Colin Firth besotted with his speechless Portuguese housemaid and with mangled subtitles beseeching her in front of her amazed peasant relatives to marry him) but the mistranslated title — more properly Neurotics Anonymous but that doesn’t sound much good either — does for it.
So: the cripplingly shy Jean-Rene Van Den Hugde’s chocolate factory is going bust, and his new employee, the cripplingly shy Angelique, stupidly hired as the new chocolate-plugging salesperson, fails to retrieve it, being shy, from its parlous plummeting decline. Its product is ‘traditional’, she is told, ‘old-fashioned’, and ‘chocolate has moved on’. She loses contracts and should be fired but Jean-Rene is in love with her, and receiving daily instruction from his melancholy analyst: touch her; kiss her; just do it. He takes her out to a restaurant, but, both being cripplingly shy, conversation does not take place. He climbs out the lavatory window leaving her with the bill and the next morning announces her resignation but she turns up for work anyway. The situation worsens.
Her difficulty is she is a secret chocolate-making genius, and her various world-famous prizewinning chocolates have been brought out under false pretenses. Her former quirky employer, now dead, pretended they came from a remote hermit living a cave, and this falsehood was used to promote them. So when things get really bad at the factory she pretends she has found the hermit again, and is communicating with him on Skype, with earphones, and he is telling her how to tell the factory how to do it.
Besotted with her — and assisted by her sombre encounter group, Romantics Anonymous — he manages by accident to get her, via an absent-minded hotel clerk’s double booking in a room with no couch but a very big bed, into bed. It is an enormous success. But she, then, being a romantic, immediately plans marriage and many children and he, stunned, leaves the room and goes walking. By the time he comes back — ‘Yes!’ he cries,’Let’s do it!’ — she has gone away, believing she has blown it, and vanishes, the chocolate recipes with her. Bereft of its shy anonymous maestro, the factory, helas, may soon close.
All this is wonderfully interspersed with her encounter group, a coven of grimy losers, one a nymphomaniac, one a tidyness-freak, and so on, who confess without ceasing how love went wrong for them. And Angelique repeatedly sings ‘I Have Confidence’ from The Sound Of Music, skipping down cobbled streets, to perk up her mood before the next crisis. And Jean-Rene keeps getting into a sweat, and leaving the room every five minutes to change his shirt.
This is a wonderfully charming film, something between a Truffaut and a Richard Curtis, with Benoit Poelvoorde and Isabelle Carre equally good as both mimes and wacky comedians, and it would have been a classic in the 1950s but not, helas, in this our golden age, and you have missed it now. Had it been called something better I too would have seen it sooner, and it would be a better world.
Jean-Pierre Ameris directs, and co-writes, and he seems as talented as Chaplin.
Catch it on video if you can.