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At Visions Cinema Bistro Lounge

Nov. 30 to Dec. 2

Thirty-three-year-old Thomas Thomas (Benoît Verhaert), the protagonist of French director Pierre-Paul Renders’ ingenious futuristic comedy-drama, is an agoraphobe who has not left his apartment, or permitted anyone to enter it, for eight years. He communicates with the outside world through his “visiophone,” a combination Internet monitor and video telephone. Among others, he interacts with his worried mother, his disability-insurance agent, his psychiatrist, and Clara, a compu-porn animated playmate who provides him with sexual release. Thomas’ exasperated shrink signs him up with an Internet dating agency, through which he meets Mélodie (Magali Pinglaut), an eccentric young woman who finds herself drawn to him. (In a deliciously wry sequence, the pair don cybersex stimulation garb and make love.) But Thomas’ categorical refusal to leave his cocoon ends the brief affair, whereupon he reluctantly submits to his insurance man’s suggestion that he take advantage of a government-run prostitution service. Half-heartedly interviewing the available hookers, he encounters beautiful, unhappy Eva (Aylin Yay, in an extraordinarily moving performance). Stalking her through cyberspace, he discovers that she shares his fear and alienation. Just as she warms to his advances, she’s plunged into peril, forcing Thomas to decide whether he should return to the real world to rescue her. Wittily scripted by Philippe Blasband, who wrote the first-rate, similarly claustrophobic An Affair of Love, which was almost entirely set in a cafe and a hotel room, Thomas in Love refines Hitchcock’s limited-point-of-view experiments in Rear Window. Until the film’s final shot, we are restricted to seeing only what Thomas observes on his visiophone, a strategy that poses a number of technical challenges (among them, shooting each sequence in a single, uninterrupted, fixed-frame take and forcing the actors to emote directly to the camera). Renders turns these constraints to his advantage, creating a compelling one-of-a-kind movie that satirizes evolving communication technologies while presenting a narrative that subtly darkens from comedy to pathos. —Joel E. Siegel