Film #215: Paris 05:59 (2016)

ParisSFWaka: Théo et Hugo dans le même bateau
directors: Olivier Ducastel & Jacques Martineau
language: French
length: 97 minutes
watched on: 18 July 2016
(Rainbow Reel Tokyo – 6/6)
(1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6)

I had a choice with this movie – I could either go to this final screening on the Monday night after work, in Aoyama, or I could have gone a few days earlier to the screening in Shinjuku. The cinema in Shinjuku was more comfortable than the hall in Aoyama, but I chose the latter, because it said there was an event. Perhaps naïvely I thought there would be a Q&A with the directors – after all, I’d been to exactly that back in 2012 – and I was keen to have the chance to meet them if possible. It turned out it was a local drag queen doing light comedy, and some guys from the LGBT community centre, who ran around giving out condoms. And they started late because they were trying to get everyone seated in a completely packed hall. Oh well.

The reason for the condoms became clear pretty quickly once we started watching the movie – the film starts with a very long, very explicit sex scene in an underground club in Paris. Two men (Théo and Hugo, as in the French title of the movie, but I’ve forgotten which is which now) make a connection, and start to go home together, but it transpires that one forgot to put on a condom in the heat of the moment, and the other is HIV positive, and the rest of the movie becomes a kind of safe sex PSA, as we follow the men around, first to a hospital to get an emergency drug to stop the infection from taking hold, and then on mini adventures around Paris at 5 in the morning (getting food, taking the first train home, discussing life, worrying about the potential of getting HIV, blaming themselves and each other, etc).

Such a subject can easily fall flat on its face, and the movie was teetering on the edge a few times – it’s as good as filmed in real time, and it looks like it was actually filmed on location at 5 in the morning around Paris, probably on a low budget, as there are very few bystanders in any of the scenes. This means that there are a few scenes where they are just waiting around, or the hospital appointment itself, which was tedious to watch.

But the film does have an exuberance despite the subject matter, and most of the scenes in between – as the two guys run or cycle around the city – are very fast-paced. It’s also sensitive to its subject matter, and is careful to paint its characters in many colours. A lot of the conversations they have are about normal, mundane things – food they like, or why one of them usually takes Mondays off work, or why one has a “new” number beginning with 07 instead of 06. This kind of minutiae is always appreciated, and it gives a more detailed look into the culture they inhabit in a way that other things might not, but at some points that’s all they’re talking about – and it was a bit repetitive, too. The movie sort of loses its way in the third act, after the sex club and the hospital scenes have been and gone and there’s only the guys rushing around.

To a limited extent, they also encounter other characters as they go around, who add to the vibrance of the world that’s being depicted. There’s an old homophobic man in the hospital complaining that he should be first, or an old lady on the metro as they take the train home.

As a “meet cute”, this movie works really well, although come to think of it, the sex club isn’t really cute. As a depiction of two guys starting out their journey together, it works just as it’s intended. But as a PSA about the importance of wearing condoms with strangers, it’s decidedly ham-fisted. An important message, to be sure, but subtlety was not this movie’s strength.

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