Throughout the first half of "He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not" -- a deceptive romantic thriller that thinks itself full of clever twists -- writer-director Laetitia Colombani conspicuously leaves out so many details of her story that it's a dead give-away something is amiss.
She buys a little time and good will from the audience by casting angelic Audrey Tautou -- the sweetheart of arthouse cinema after 2001's "Amélie" -- as her heroine, an art student zealously in love with a young, handsome, married cardiologist (Samuel Le Bihan, "Brotherhood of the Wolf").
Colombani tries to skirt around the fact that Le Bihan doesn't seem to be in love with Tautou -- he's noticeably absent from her day-to-day life -- by having their affair unfold only through Tautou's gossip to a girlfriend (Sophie Guillemin) and lonely bleating to an innocuous, haplessly smitten male classmate (Clement Sibony) who just wants to be near her.
The director keeps secrets from the audience (at one point characters actually whisper to each other out of earshot) so she can spring them later as "surprises." But the more she plays at such smoke and mirrors, the more obvious it becomes that she's trying to keep a major plot development under wraps -- and it isn't long before any savvy filmgoer will realize what that development is and remain 10 steps ahead for the rest of the picture.
As the plot unfolds, Tautou's wide-eyed lovability is chipped away in a superbly measured performance that slowly reveals serious instability in this girl, whose obsession goes into detrimental full tilt when she thinks Le Bihan won't leave his pregnant wife.
Meanwhile we see the object of her affection only in brief and/or from afar until half way through the movie, when, after a dark but not so surprising turn of events, the film literally rewinds and begins again from his point of view.
If the turning point of the story had been more cleverly camouflaged, "He Loves Me..." might have packed an unforgettable punch. But once the cat's out of the bag, the movie disintegrates further as it becomes far too tempting to second-guess Le Bihan's lack of common sense and Colombani's logical loopholes, which pile up exponentially as the last act plays out.
In Theaters: Monday 7th March 2011
Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5
IMDB: 5.0 / 10
Director: Laetitia Colombani