wed 28/02/2024

Lie With Me review - a bittersweet enchantment | reviews, news & interviews

Lie With Me review - a bittersweet enchantment

Lie With Me review - a bittersweet enchantment

A middle-aged novelist recalls his clandestine first affair

Thinking back: Guillaume de Tonquédec, right, with Victor Belmondo in 'Lie With Me'Peccadillo Pictures

The English title of Olivier Peyon’s new movie is a rather hackneyed pun that not only doesn’t work in the original language but also manages to convey exactly the wrong meaning. Arrête avec tes Mensonges is a faintly Almodóvarian love story about the importance (and sometimes difficulty) of facing up to the truth about yourself. However, instead of Stop With Your Lies, we get Lie With Me.

The faux pas, if that’s what it is, is hardly the movie’s fault, although a movie star, Molly Ringwald, is to blame. She isn’t in the film, which has an all-male cast except for two walk-on roles, but it was her otherwise excellent translation of Philippe Besson’s 2017 novel (dubbed “the French Brokeback Mountain”) that furnished the US edition with its unfortunate pun. And unlike the lying, the irony doesn’t stop there, because in both novel and film an otherwise irrelevant plot MacGuffin involves the export of something authentically French into the American market.

The action takes place over a weekend in the picturesque rural backwater of Cognac as the town celebrates the bicentenary of its famous brandy. A busload of wine experts and importers arrive from the United States on a guided tour led by Lucas, a young man who works for a distillery that is also welcoming back – 35 years after he left – a bestselling novelist, Stéphane, who grew up in the area.

Stéphane is having trouble with his assignment as a brand ambassador. He opens and closes his laptop but can’t quite draft the keynote speech he’s scheduled to give at a black-tie event. Recently he’s been struggling anyway with writer’s block after decades of prolific storytelling – “as many as two novels a year!” marvels the host at a book reading – in which he has obsessively distilled memories of a forbidden love affair with a classmate at the town’s high school.

Homecoming fails to unblock the clogged literary arteries but it does stir other emotions. Coincidentally or not – because Lucas has a secret agenda – it turns out that Stéphane’s first love was the young man’s father.

Nothing much happens in the beautifully shot Lie With Me. The middle-aged Stéphane (Guillaume de Tonquédec) forges a connection with Lucas that brings back a flood of memories, and the impassioned teenage relationship between his younger self (Jérémy Gillet) and Lucas’s father Thomas (Julien De Saint Jean) is told in flashback. (Pictured above: De Saint Jean, left, and Gillet)

No doubt the fact that Lucas is played by Victor Belmondo, grandson of the legendary nouvelle vague star, adds a certain piquancy to the generational drama. However, the other performances are equally beguiling, as is Peyon’s use of different colour palettes for the two timelines, creating its own visual language of memory and repression: the scenes of boyhood romance are bathed in primary colours and almost metallic sunshine, signifying the intensity of youth, while both season and mood are suitably autumnal for the regretful novelist’s return.

Back in the mid-1980s, and especially in this backward corner of south-western France, being openly gay was never an option. (Even now, the town’s mayor says he disapproves of Stéphane’s novels as “too modern”, adding “I admit I’m sceptical about men who like men.”) Yet Thomas exhibits a kind of internalised homophobia, being so ashamed of his own sexuality that he is unwilling to be seen in public with Stéphane. As a result, their clandestine affair unfolds against a backdrop of remote or derelict locations, in the middle of a forest or in a disused municipal swimming pool, for instance.

The young Stéphane can’t wait to graduate into the literary world, and to escape into a career of self-mythologising that ultimately blurs the lines between reality and fiction. His departure abandons Thomas to self-hatred, which is a much harder thing to escape than other people’s prejudices. Lie With Me is an enchanting film about the disenchantment of growing up.

The scenes of boyhood romance are bathed in primary colours and almost metallic sunshine

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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