COME UNDONE (PRESQUE RIEN)
Director: Sebastien Lifshitz
Stars: Jeremie Elkaim, Stephane Rideau
Stanley Kubrick once said that watching a film was like taking part in a controlled dream. But watching Presque Rien is more like being in the kind of aimless daydream you might have at work, while you stare out the window waiting for five o-clock. Its general sense of depressive ennui was best summed up by Philip French at The Observer who said that “there is talent behind this movie but information that illuminates motivation is withheld or reluctantly provided, and the writer-director’s gloomy world view seems to be summed up in his own name - Sébastien Lifshitz.”
In Presque Rien, suicidal Mathieu (Jérémie Elkaïm) recounts his summer affair with Cédric (Stéphane Rideau), a fling which contained moments of happiness and love, but which was ultimately thwarted by pre-adult crises of identity & confidence.
Though poor Mathieu has to endure invasive physical examinations at a psychiatric hospital and interrogations from a smart but intimidating therapist, it’s the peripheral cast who seem to be heavily medicated, with catatonic girlfriends reacting only with the occasional fingering of their blouse, and a set of mothers and aunties who drink heaps and mumble incoherently.
I’m not a huge fan of elliptical art-house films with non-linear narratives and the tortured-gay-teen genre is becoming dangerously over-populated. There’s not exactly a shortage of movies about angsty homolescents trapped in misinterpreted affairs with straight buddies who are merely-experimenting, either. Presque Rien fits neatly into both these categories, so, needless to say, it wasn’t exactly a movie for me.
Having said that, however, several beach scenes and twilight dune trysts in Presque Rien are really beautiful looking. The actors too, are handsome and appealing. Though the scrambled story-order and lack of any backstory about why, say, the mother character is bedridden with a suicidal nervous breakdown and taking too many benzos skirts dangerously close to O Fantasma land, it’s generally clear what’s going on and indeed, peripheral story elements such as the bedridden mother add to the film’s evocation of the amorphous threat that often lurks around the teenage gay years.
In short, there’s an aesthetic poetry to Presque Rien but it comes at the expense of other important elements - like drama. There’s a troubling simplicity to the metaphoric choices, such as trips to fairgrounds and rides on rickety roller-coasters prefiguring scenes of emotional conflict. Likewise, scenes of the boys playing with their foreskins in the bathroom, or even the film’s explicit butt-fucking sex scene, don’t travel too far beyond the point where the film already started: teens are simultaneously fascinated and repelled by their bodies and their sexual needs and desires. For gay teens, these pressures can be acute. But we already know all that.