French Film Romantics Anonymous Woos Us With Chocolates and Laughter

05/22/2011 09:52 pm ET | Updated Jul 22, 2011

Luckily, American audiences will soon have the chance to see one of France's best new films, Romantics Anonymous. It's a clever romantic comedy about two interested but reluctant, stymied sweethearts who can't manage hinting, flirting or even a date outside their work at a chocolate factory.

Romantics Anonymous will reach US audiences "in the coming months," according to Tribeca Film, which announced May 18 it has acquired all US distribution rights for the film. At its international premier last month during the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival, its laughs and chocolates made it one of audiences' favorites. Plus it is already a box-office hit in France.

The film features an easily-embarrassed blond chocolate maker and her boss, a panic-prone chocolate company owner. Neither can act on the chemistry they feel. Are they just painfully shy? Director Jean-Pierre Améris, who co-wrote the film with Belgian scriptwriter Philippe Blasband, says it's more than that.

In France, we call this being emotif, or hyper-sensitive, hyper-emotional. People like this don't have defenses, so they feel they're being invaded by others and by their fears. They carry a permanent state of tension between desires to love and work with others and something that keeps them held back. It causes a lack of self confidence and a fear of others -- a 'who's going to look at me' phobia.

We have support groups for emotifs in France called Les Emotifs Anonymes. In fact, that's the title of the film in France. It doesn't translate in English, so we changed the name here. I myself suffered from this problem. I remember when I was young and had to leave the house, I'd open the door a crack to see if the street was clear. It got even worse in adolescence and continued beyond that. So when I discovered the organization 10 years ago, I joined a group and went to it for two years.


Jean-Pierre Améris / Photo by Leslie Hassler

Do many people suffer from this?

I found a huge number of people have this problem. I met people from all walks of life, in particular, teachers and businessmen. But also bank managers, and so forth. They all found it very difficult to respond when other people are looking at them.

What about artistic people?

Actually, if you're hyper-emotional and an artist, you're lucky. Because you can use this as your source material. Your emotions can become your tool. A writer or a filmmaker can actually make something with these feelings. On the other hand, for people who have this and are not artistic, they don't know what to do with all these emotions.

I thank Améris for making Romantics Anonymous, by his admission the most autobiographical one of his career. He responds:

"We all regret not having tried, dared to do something, and it's often for silly reasons. I wanted to tell a story involving this fear, but with a light-hearted approach that could inspire confidence in people who share the characters' suffering to different degrees."

He has definitely inspired me. (I now reach for the last of my chocolate bourbon balls, made as a tribute to this film.)

To see more of Leslie Hassler's photographs, see