Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Rarely have I seen a seemingly sure-footed film lose its way so thoroughly in its anxiety for narrative closure. For the first hour Garçon Stupide plays confidently as a docudrama about an undereducated, rural young man trying hard to work through his sexual confusion, using the Internet to hook up for emotionless gay sexual encounters that mean about as much to him as the chocolate bars that go by on the conveyer belt at his dead-end factory job. A girlfriend lets him share her apartment and plays mother and mentor to him until he freaks out, accosting her in a cruel fit of jealousy after she takes a boyfriend. Meanwhile, an older man he met online (voiced by the director, unseen behind the camera during these conversations) takes a genuine and Platonic interest in Loïc, who seems baffled by his intentions. Throw into the mix some fascinating split screen moments that both portray and poetically comment on Loïc's encounters, and you've got all the makings of a strong film, maybe slightly on the dull side, but energized by an important subject: criticism of a society that prefers to force gay youths to fend for themselves in a dangerous world.

But the filmmakers completely lose control of the narrative in the last half hour. There's a rash act of violence from an unlikely character (the wrong character), and an implausible connection (is it only imagined?) with a faraway object of desire. Loïc receives help from people who must presumably be his parents, raising a big unanswered question about why he'd seemed so abandoned up to that point. And although Loïc's desire for education is touchingly vulnerable--after seeing a video entitled "Impressionism" on a trick's bookshelf, he goes home to look up the term, then misuses it for the rest of the film--it also at times strains credulity, as when this 20 year old Frenchman has to look up 'Hitler' in the dictionary. Thus, an insightful touch of characterization reflects instead on the writers' skill. The use of mixed p.o.v. strains the director's skills, though it's also a sign of potential artistry. The sex scenes in the film are surprisingly explicit, though not very erotic (certainly not romantic), an important distinction that does come across effectively.

As some kind of gesture of narrative closure, Loïc crosses paths with a young man who is just like him (down to the bandage over his left eye), though one wonders if that's really what he needs. I wasn't satisfied. Slightly better was the film's other closing gesture, a caffeinated voiceover monologue in which Loïc sums up in overlapping phrases all the things he's learned he isn't.

Rating: 2 out of 4 stars.

I loved David Denby's recent essay, "The Moviegoer: Susan Sontag’s Life in Film." It really helped me understand her place as a critic. Highly recommended.

Song: "Stacked Crooked" by The New Pornographers



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