You’ve seen the moment many times. Two future lovers see each other in a crowd, and something clicks. In West Side Story that moment prompts a blur on the edges of the frame, with only the lovers in focus. In La La Land, it takes the form of a camera push-in with all the lights, but for a spotlight, going out. The moment is so familiar in fantasies (and desired in reality) that there’s even an old showtune about it.
Some enchanted evening, you will meet a stranger
You will meet a stranger across a crowded room.
And somehow you know, you know even then…
The last place you might expect to see it deployed is in a French film which begins with 18 minutes of explicit activity in a sex club but there it is in Paris 05:59: Théo & Hugo when the titular men lock eyes and, apparently, souls while initially f***ing other people.
Directors Olivier Ducastel & Jacques Martineau pull out all the movie stops to sell the moment, taking us for the only time in the movie, out of reality to stare at Théo (Geoffrey Couët) & Hugo (François Nambot) as they stare at each other bathed in light with nothing at all around them: No sex club, no groping men, no time. Then it’s back to the rutting.
Unexpectedly they leave the sex club together, presumably to pick back up for round two at home, but things don’t go quite as planned for reasons best left to experience in the theater. Their restless night prompts confessions, arguments, small talk and dreams as they roam around Paris together for an hour and fifteen minutes or so.
While the “real time” gimmick has generally been deployed for Hollywood thrillers or intense dramas like 12 Angry Men, High Noon, Rope, it also has a more relaxed and equally classic French thread in talky mood movies like Agnes Varda’s sublime Cléo from 5 to 7 and the insanely romantic Before Sunset.
While the opening reel is jarring and sweaty and not at all what you might think of when you think of “talky relationship drama,” it’s actually a bold opening gambit — we’re in it with the characters, knowing them physically and then backtracking to knowing them personally. And isn’t that how a lot of relationships begin, backwards, if we’re being honest? Not at a sex club per se, but physically intimate before true intimacy arrives?
Who knows how they found lead actors who could carry out the character and conversation demands of the movie and were willing to blow each other onscreen, but Couët and Nambot pull it off. When they discuss the future towards the end of the movie, you can practically see it unfolding, their personalities have become so clear.
Thanks to the brave young actors and the cinematic verve of the directors (a real life couple, best known previously for the gay road trip movie The Adventures of Felix, 2000) what follows their anonymous encounter, is an unexpectedly moving and even sweet movie about budding relationships, personal responsibility, and frank honesty.
Paris 05:59: Théo & Hugo is now playing in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. You should see it.