Modern French gay love story

  • by Jason Victor Serinus
  • Tuesday January 24, 2017
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Geoffrey Couet and Fran�ois Nambot in <i>Paris 05:59 -<br>Theo & Hugo.</i> Photo: Wolfe Releasing
Geoffrey Couet and Fran�ois Nambot in Paris 05:59 -
Theo & Hugo.
Photo: Wolfe Releasing

How many truly sweet cinematic love stories have you seen that begin with a graphic, almost 20-minute grope-and-pump in a Parisian sex club? Such is the case with Paris 05:59 - Theo & Hugo, a remarkable French movie (with English subtitles), written and directed by the real-life couple of Olivier Ducastel and  Jacques Martineau, that begins with a lust-filled, "harder, harder" encounter between two young gay men at 4:27 a.m., and concludes with a hope-filled hand-in-hand at 5:59 a.m.

This extraordinary film, which won the Audience Award at the LGBT Teddy Award component of the 66th Berlin International Film Festival, as well as awards in Boston and Puerto Vallarta, was originally issued under the French title Theo et Hugo dans le meme bateau (Theo and Hugo in the Same Boat). The reference is to an unwelcome commonality that the men discover shortly after leaving the club. The dynamic that follows is not only believable, but reflective of oft-harsh realities among intimate gay men in the Age of AIDS. That the two men seem to transcend those realities, more or less, in the most touching way, becomes a poignant affirmation of the power of love.

Spoiling the film by sharing in advance what unfolds in real time in the span of 1:32, is not what anyone intent on seeing Paris 05:59 - Theo & Hugo would want. Better then to focus on some of its most remarkable aspects. First and foremost are the two actors who bring the film to life, Geoffrey Couet (the curly-haired, sweet faced Théo), who was 26 the year the film was shot, and Francois Nambot (the 5 o'clock-shadowed, utterly romantic Hugo), who is 11 years older. Thanks to their compelling chemistry, both men received the best acting prize at the Cabourg Film Festival in June 2016. Equally thin and attractive, and adorable in their own ways, they are part of a larger cast where virtually everyone speaks frankly, with uncommon honesty.

Paris 05:59 was filmed mainly at night, over the course of 15 days. The orgy takes place in a genuine sex club, the hot and cramped L'Impact, in the Les Halles neighborhood of Paris. The soundtrack is authentically electronic, driving, and impersonal, punctuated only by words and grunts.

Once outside, we follow Theo and Hugo through an unpredictable, early-morning courtship where love and fear dance hand-in-hand. Streets that are normally deserted only during a film shoot where producers have permission to control traffic are here virtually empty due to the hour. Lighting is natural, and street noises uncensored. As we move closer to the film's conclusion, the streets get noisier, and the interactions between the two men more intense.

Seemingly uncensored, albeit precisely choreographed, is the sex scene, whose paradoxical intimacy amidst anonymity is breathtaking. Not choreographed is a hospital scene in which an intern, played by real-life doctor Claire Deschamps, performs a totally unrehearsed intake to which the two men respond spontaneously. The tension of the encounter is all the more poignant because it is as real as two actors can possibly get.

I never thought a long bike ride through dimly lit streets could be so involving. Nor did I expect that seeing two young men run through the streets with abandon could be so delightful and life-affirming. Groin-tickling, poignant, sobering, and heart-warming, Paris 05:59 - Theo & Hugo is a joy. (Opens Friday at the Roxie.)