By Preston Wilder
Last year was a high-water mark for French LGBT movies. Blue is the Warmest Colour (lesbian coming-of-age drama) won the Golden Palm at Cannes while Stranger By the Lake (arty thriller set at a gay cruising-spot) was named Film of the Year by Cahiers du Cinéma. When it came to the Césars, however – the French Oscars, with all the middle-of-the-road sensibility that implies – it was Guillaume Gallienne who triumphed, with Me, Myself and Mum (or Les garcons et Guillaume, à table!, to give its original title) trumping those other two films to win five awards, including Best Film.
It may be significant that neither Blue nor Stranger have played in a Cyprus cinema, despite their acclaim. Me, Myself and Mum gets four screenings (tonight’s is the second) at the Friends of the Cinema Society, however – it’s also been shown on Novacinema – and I’ll be shocked if anyone is shocked. Not only is this a comedy, much of it played as harmless knockabout, but it’s also an odd kind of LGBT movie in being a ‘heterosexual coming-out’, the tale of a man who seems gay but in fact isn’t. It could almost have been made by those scary American Bible-bashers who believe that homosexuality can be ‘cured’.
France, too, tends to have traditional views on sexuality (it’s the only EU country that saw sizeable protests against gay marriage) – but the French aren’t Bible-bashers, and traditionalism isn’t the main (or only) reason for the film’s success. Me, Myself and Mum is also supremely elegant, not in its script or visuals but in its approach: unlike the tearful over-sharing favoured by Victim Cinema, this is a memory of abuse shared without a trace of self-pity – and a poison-pen letter to a toxic mother delivered obliquely and, as the French say, with panache.
Mum is coiffed and aloof, the kind of well-heeled woman one associates with lie-ins and coffee mornings. She’s played by Gallienne in drag – and he also plays ‘himself’, both onstage talking about his life (the film is based on his one-man show) and as various incarnations of his younger self, from childhood onwards. The young Guillaume is effeminate, un-athletic, very unlike his two brothers – hence the French title, translating as ‘Boys and Guillaume, come to dinner!’ – and Mum behaves as if he were a girl, a self-image he unthinkingly accepts. Only in adolescence does it really dawn on him what Mum’s been thinking, when she assumes (and says out loud) that he’s gay, reassuringly adding that “Lots of them live happy lives”. Guillaume is initially puzzled (“Lots of what?”), then stunned: “But I’m not a homo,” he says in his onstage persona, giving voice to his younger confusion. “I’m your daughter”.
The truth, of course, is somewhere in between. Our hero isn’t necessarily straight: he does have a massive crush on another boy at boarding school (‘Guillaume’ goes to boarding school in England, as did Guillaume) and of course we see him as a rather fey lad, playing ‘Sissi and Archduchess Sophie’ in his room – but ‘Guillaume’ also falls in love with a girl named Amandine, as did Guillaume (they’ve been married since 2005). The film might’ve seemed like it’s trying to have it both ways, at least if it weren’t so obviously based on a real person’s complex sexuality. It even manages to end on an upbeat note, understanding (and implicitly forgiving) Mum’s behaviour as a form of jealousy: “She’s the one who’s afraid,” marvels our hero. “Afraid that I’d love a woman other than her.”
The film is far from perfect. The main problem is a lack of material; what worked as a one-man show feels overstretched as a movie, even at a mere 85 minutes. Gallienne’s solution is to pad out the running-time with incidental set-pieces, like a lengthy encounter with army psychiatrists evaluating his fitness for National Service (they shake their heads and go “oh la la” at what they imagine to be his wild homosexual fantasies) and an interlude in a Bavarian spa that verges on slapstick. It’s not just that these scenes are thin – they also seem timid and craven, as if softening a controversial subject for mass acceptance.
Still, it’s no good pretending that the subject isn’t controversial. Me, Myself and Mum is the safe unthreatening face of the French LGBT wave, to be sure – but, by showing Guillaume’s struggle to accept his straight sexuality, it can also evoke the reverse situation more effectively for a non-gay audience than any number of gay protagonists. And of course it’s amusing, which helps. At one point, Guillaume mentions his two aunts: one is humourless and talks about Gay Pride a lot, the other – his favourite – is flamboyant, feminine and likes to laugh: “When you’re funny, I’m all yours!”. I see her point.
DIRECTED BY Guillaume Gallienne
STARRING Guillaume Gallienne, Andre Marcon, Francoise Fabian
In French, with Greek subtitles.
France 2013 85 mins