Sweetly romantic Gallic feature “The Man I Love” is a combo gay coming-out saga and semi-tragic love story that sports much of the same breezy, heartfelt appeal as the Ducatel-Martineau “Adventures of Felix.” Made for French TV in 1997, before writer-helmer Stephane Giusti’s more widely traveled “Why Not Me?” and “Bella Ciao,” vid-shot production has only recently hit the gay-fest circuit. Possibility of belated offshore theatrical sales would be stronger if now-dated AIDS political and treatment issues didn’t dominate last reels. At the least, item presents an attractive pickup for foreign broadcast programmers and specialty tape distribs.
Newly hired as monitor at a Marseilles municipal pool, the irresistibly brash Martin (Marcial Di Fonzo Bo) falls head over heels after one look at resident lifeguard Lucas (Jean-Michel Portal) — and wastes no time proclaiming his love. But the object of his affections, a frosty golden boy and aspiring pro diver, puts up considerable resistance.
At first, he wants nothing to do with this ardent suitor, particularly given the existence of live-in girlfriend Lise (Mathilde Seigner). Awkwardly, she takes a shine to misanthrope Lucas’ new pesky “friend,” incorporating Martin into their starved-for-company social life, never suspecting that her squeeze might simultaneously be fending off the new pal’s advances.
Eventually Lucas begins to enjoy the ebullient Martin’s companionship, platonically at least. Cracks soon appear in his heterosexual armor, though.
Before it’s even consummated, this “union” is blessed by Martin’s over-the-top mother Rose (Vittoria Scognamiglio), who makes it clear which side of the gene pool his Zorba-like largess hails from. Her major concern is not just her son’s happiness, but his health, since Martin is HIV positive. His frustration over stalled HIV patient access to promising new therapies (which he duly protests as a leader in ACT-UP Marseilles) has led to taking dangerous “holidays” from the available treatments.
Thus, mortality looms over Lucas’ decision to leave one partner — an enraged, disconsolate Lise — for another. (Ironically, Lucas’ own hospital-exec father turns out to be the boyfriend’s longtime medico.)
While arriving a tad abruptly, closing scene hits just the right wistful yet life-affirming note, suggesting that love survives in spirit even when the physical self is gone. Martin’s willful self-destruction in the face of seemingly inevitable death induces mixed emotions, particularly in our current climate of far more hopeful AIDS diagnoses. But Di Fonzo Bo’s perf is so exuberantly charming that the character remains sympathetic even when his decisions appear insensitive. Portal nicely limns a contrastingly reined-in, slowly flowering emotional state. Name thesp Seigner matter-of-factly portrays Lise as a woman understandably bitter when scorned, yet still capable of open-hearted concern.
Largely shot on the streets of Marseilles, with a few road-tripping excursions, pic has an off-the-cuff feel that belies its economical script and surefooted editing. Tech aspects are solid if modest.