GAY FILM REVIEWS BY MICHAEL D. KLEMM
Just A Question Of Love
(Juste Une Question D'Amour)
PictureThis! Entertainment, 1999
Starring: Cyrille Thouvenin, Stephen Guerin Tillie, Eva Darlan, Danielle Denie, Idwig Stephane, Caroline Veyt
Unrated, 88 minutes
Of The Closet, Into The Fire
"You're a fag, Laurent, so deal with it and stop dumping your problems on us."
For those of us who left the closet a long time ago, watching coming-out films can sometimes be a bit of a chore. I hate to say it, but after being out for close to 20 years, it's easy for me to dismiss these films - there are so many of them after all - because the times they reflect are ancient history. Ask any middle-aged straight person and I'm sure most have no patience for teen love stories either.
But every now and then, one comes along that strikes the right chord. One such film was Edge of Seventeen, and another is Just a Question of Love, a delightful 1999 French film that reminds us of the conflicting emotions that arose during the most awkward period in our lives. And it manages to do so without turning into an Afterschool Special.
Laurent is 23, an agricultural student, and deeply closeted. For Laurent, pretending to be straight is his only option. And pretend he does. His deeply homophobic parents believe that Carole, Laurent's roommate, is really his girlfriend and he does nothing to persuade them to think otherwise. Carole agrees to this charade, even accompanying Laurent to family dinners. But she is getting fed up with the lies; she is also secretly in love with him.
For Laurent, deception has become his mantra. The reasons stem from the close friendship he once enjoyed with his gay cousin, Marc. When Marc came out to his family, they disowned him, refusing to even visit him in the hospital when he was dying of acute hepatitis. (They all assumed it was AIDS.) Marc's death has turned Laurent into an emotional trainwreck. But his life is about to get even more complicated when he is assigned to an internship with a handsome, and slightly older, researcher named Cedric, who is also gay. The attraction between the two men is almost immediate. Let Cupid's arrow fly!
But nothing is ever easy in love. Unlike Laurent, Cedric is out - with a vengeance. Cedric refuses to live his life in secret, and he is annoyed by the lengths Laurent will go to pretend he is straight. Before long, the tension between them comes to a boil. A catalyst for both chaos, and consequent healing, is Cedric's mother, Emma. Let's just say that her misguided good intentions prove disastrous and leave it there for the audience to discover the rest of the film themselves.
Just a Question of Love works on many levels. First off, the actors playing Laurent and Cedric have terrific chemistry together. Just look at their eyes to see how much passion flames between them. The first romantic flicker between them is obvious as they light each otherŐs cigarettes. A few scenes later, they are ripping off each other's clothes. In the morning, Cedric's mother walks in on the two men in bed ("You could try locking your door!") and the embarrassed reaction shots are priceless. Watch the scene where the young lovers playfully douse each other with water - these guys aren't just in love with a capital L, they're also having fun!
A good drama needs conflict, and Just a Question of Love is loaded with enough to fill a Russian novel. This could have been just another run-of-the-mill coming-out film but this one is so well written and acted that it's possible to forget the umpteen variations on the theme that have been filmed before. This a story about facing the truth, and the blinders many people wear to avoid it. Perhaps this is why the first shot of the movie is filmed through a pair of hands covering the camera's lens - suggesting a person who is afraid of what he will see if he gets his head out of the sand.
Besides its jubilant depiction of young love, the film's greatest accomplishment is its exploration of what happens when one man is closeted in a relationship while the other is not. Most of my readers, especially those who have been out for a long time, can attest to feeling irked with lovers who treat their relationship as a "dirty secret." But Just a Question of Love reminds us that coming out is not easy for everyone. Laurent has good reason to be afraid of his parents, and perhaps Cedric is being unfair in his expectations.
On the other hand, what out and proud queer wants to be taken to a family gathering as a "friend" while his lover's opposite-sex roommate is present and they pretend to have a relationship? No wonder Cedric pushes Laurent's hand away when he strokes his leg under the dinnertable. Small moments like this will resonate with the audience. This is perhaps the best film to deal with the subject of out vs. the closet in a relationship that I have ever seen. It is certainly the most realistic.
Just a Question of Love is almost a lyric poem, with charms reminiscent of the films of Truffaut. The script avoids all of the usual queer cinema cliches, (the one death isn't even from AIDS), and there are no annoying songs to pad out the film's length. This one is highly recommended. Netflix.com has this one for rent, if you can't find it locally.
On Director Christian Faure: