Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

A French double bill, with Blain & Deneuve ...

LES AMIS, 1971. Can one truly comprehend a talky movie in a foreign language, without sub-titles?. This fascinating oddity by French actor Gerard Blain is only available it seems on YouTube in French (there is also a French only dvd). It is a languid, moody piece which one can enjoy if one gets in the rhythm of it. Is it an undiscovered gay classic or another semi-autographical film by a popular actor?  Blain (1930-2000) was in those early Chabrol films like LE BEAU SERGE and LES COUSINS, and in other films like Hawks’ HATARI!

Gerard Blain
His first film as director, LES AMIS (The Friends) features an attractive young man, who looks rather like Blain himself, and his relationship with an older man. We see Philippe (Philippe March) at the start having his brown shoes polished, which match his yellow socks. Then he looks at clothes in a shop window – this is a young man who appreciates the finer things in life. Then he is in an expensive restaurant with his older friend, a wealthy businessman, who is also happily married. Nicholas (Jean-Claude Dauphin) returns to his country estate, with a present for his wife ….. It seems the two men have a secret relationship which benefits them both. Philippe lives with his busy mother who is always sewing or cleaning, while Nicholas finances their holiday away at the seaside, and leaves him enough money for his horse-riding lessons and hanging out with the local rich kids, when he has to return to the office. 
From what I gather Blain himself was bisexual in his youth and also had an older protector, so maybe this is his roman a clef about that. Philippe is actually heterosexual, and Nicholas does not object or put barriers on his pursuit of an attractive blonde. This relationship is obviously benefiting Philippe, as the older man teaches him and guides him and helps him to get ahead. Some scenes though go on rather too long, like Philippe and the blonde in that car,  then next scene, he is back sharing a hotel double bedroom with Nicholas (there is nothing explicit, it is all very tasteful), and then seemingly making a good impresson on the blonde’s family, until she finds someone else ….

SPOILER AHEAD: Truffaut liked the film and gave it a good review in his THE FILMS IN MY LIFE (I must see if  I still have my copy), and maybe hommaged it in his 1973 LA NUIT AMERICAINE (DAY FOR NIGHT) with what happens to his older man, Jean-Pierre Aumont, who also turns out to have a handsome young man in tow, Aumont though is killed in a car crash, a similar fate for Nicholas here ….. Is that how the French saw gay relationships in the ‘70s? – wealthy older men keeping younger ones, but not allowed to have a happy ending ….. Whatever, Blain’s film charms and keeps our interest, and is another fascinating European oddity from the ‘70s. Having now read Truffaut's review he says the older man gives the younger "the security, comfort and tender affection he craves"! It certainly helps to be rich ...

APRES LUI, 2007. One of those solid, well-crafted French family dramas. This time Catherine Deneuve is Camille, the mother of a teenager who is killed in a car crash – his best friend Franck was driving the car and the mother now focuses all her energy and attention on him wanting him to finish his exams, and offering him a job in her bookshop. Her daughter and ex-husband are baffled by her behaviour as are her late son’s other friends, as she tries to hang out with them, going to rock shows, drinking beer etc. Anyone who has been bereaved will understand this - she wants to do what he did to keep him close to her, to almost be him. The boy (Thomas Dumerchez) seems uncommunicative and baffled by it all. Finally events go too far as they burn down the tree he crashed into and they are taken into police custody. 
Its perhaps a meditation on how people cope with grief, rather like the Italian THE SON’S ROOM by Nanno Moretti. Deneuve is a sterling presence here in another good late role for her and it is ably directed by Gael Morel, who played the lead in Techine’s LES ROSEAUX SAUVAGE (WILD REEDS) (reviewed here at gay interest label) and has directed other films too, I am looking at his THREE DANCING SLAVES soon. Morel co-wrote the script here. Its absorbing though the ending is rather inconclusive. 

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