Thomas In Love
Though it probably wasn't intended as such, the most erotic love scene of the year takes place in Thomas In Love, during a liaison between the disembodied voice of an agoraphobic shut-in and a shy young woman in a "cybersex suit," a humiliating piece of Barbarella lingerie with body sensors and a synthetic vagina. Filmed entirely from the perspective of a computer monitor, the title character's lifeline to the world, Pierre-Paul Renders' cleverly conceived Thomas In Love doubles the voyeurism that lends film its natural erotic charge. While the sex itself turns out to be abbreviated and more than a little creepy for the man's inexperienced date, watching the watchers places the audience in a uniquely seductive state of identification. It's tempting to imagine what Atom Egoyan and David Cronenberg could doand have done, to an extentwith this premise, which begs to be pushed into ever-kinkier corners. But on his own considerably gentler terms, Renders devises a novel and eerily plausible vision of love in the not-so-distant future, even if he doesn't have the nerve to go all the way with it. Voiced by Benoît Verhaert, "Thomas Thomas" hasn't left his apartment in eight years. His communication with other human beings is relegated to a "visiophone" that allows him to see and hear (and be seen and heard by) users on the other end of the line, with a minimum of static and pixelation. Thomas' affairs are mediated by a strange, insidious "insurance" company, which arranges such conveniences as fast delivery, regular psychotherapy sessions, and complimentary visits to an online brothel called Madame Zoe. Two women tempt him to break away from the monitor and rejoin society, one a kindhearted experimental video poet (Magali Pinglaut) and the other a so-called "medical prostitute" (Aylin Yay) forced into her line of work as a condition of a shortened prison sentence. As written by Philippe Blasband, who penned last year's superb An Affair Of Love, Thomas shows the same sensitivity in dealing with the problems of imposing set rules on romance. Though less assured in mapping out the film's intriguing future world, Blasband at least makes his characters' desires palpable enough to carry the story through some conventional paces. But the real star of Thomas In Love is the eye-popping production design, which paints ephemeral computer-generated backdrops with shifting colors and morphing picture frames. As with the virtual-sex scenes, Renders and Blasband look to make a darker statement about unreal reality, but instead they provide yet another good reason to stay inside.