The opening film for this year’s image+nation hails from France and is directed by Christophe Honore (Les biens-aimes, Les Chansons d’Amour). It also screened earlier this year at Cannes in the Competition section. It is a love story between unlikely partners which also involves the AIDS virus. Back at a time during the early 90s in which the gay male community was losing large numbers due to AIDS, this story shows a different side of the illness. A side in which those afflicted with it, knowing what they were in for, were not willing to go through the physical struggles that were inevitable and so became consumed by fear and passivity.
We are in the year 1993 when struggling 35-year-old Paris writer Jacques (Pierre Deladonchamps – Stranger by the Lake, Une enfance), who is suffering from AIDS, has a chance meeting with twentysomething Breton student Arthur (Vincent Lacoste – Victoria, Asterix and Obelix: God Save Britannia). As unlikely it might seem, as the two men are both leavers rather than stayers, they embark on a romance. The summer is spent getting to know each other and spending time together. This though Jacques knows due to his illness that their time together will be limited.
As opposed to most romance films you will see this year this one has none of the usual tropes of the genre. First it is told in a non-linear kind of way. Second, due to Jacques’ illness this is not going to end well, the handling of inevitable tragedy is not allowed to overshadow the lighter moments. We are allowed to enjoy the two very different men of different generations fall in love. Third, the love affair is not the only part of the story that gets screen time. We also get to see Jacques’ relationships with other men like friend Mathieu (Denis Podalydes – Cache, The DaVinci Code) and former lover Marco (Thomas Gonzalez – first film) and his son Louis (Tristan Farge – Les Malheurs de Sophie). Lastly, it shows love in all its glory and awkwardness. We see how beautiful it can be as well as how clumsy. Not all of the love scenes are “perfect”. Rather some of them are awful, unsatisfying and bumbling.
The gay male love story is told in a witty, humourous, dialogue heavy, and heartbreaking way. Director Chrisophe Honore demonstrates that he has a knack for telling a unique style of story. He has taken the love story and managed to give us something honest and modern feeling. At times it feels so personal, relevatory or intimate that you find yourself wondering if it is in anyway autobiographical on the part of the director/screenwriter Honore.
It is also a quintessentially French film. Tons of smoking. Tons! Rarely does a character, especially our two leads, not have one burning between their fingers. That along with its very verbal and intelligent nature makes its origins unmistakeable. There is something about films made in France. They just seem to be able to portray the human condition whether it be humour, drama or romance in a more adept way than others do.