The elusive, quicksilver nature of young love is often reduced to crude simplicities by the movies, but director Sebastien Lifshitz and writing partner Stephane Bouquet have observed it with a superb balance of aesthetics and insight in “Come Undone.” Tossing sentiment and trashy distractions aside, Lifshitz and Bouquet deal with the complexities of gay teen l’amour as they are, while pic reflects the variegations of memory with cinematic verve. More demanding, however, than such Gallic studies of sexual discovery as Andre Techine’s “Wild Reeds” (in which “Come Undone’s” co-star Stephane Rideau made a dextrous turn), this affair may encounter B.O. friction on its impending Stateside release — unless it becomes a cause celebre for Yank cineastes.
Such support would be highly deserved, because, as a director, Lifshitz displays a sensitivity toward his characters and a subtlety of tone and style that announces a filmmaker in firm control. Wrapped up against the winter cold and appearing half-inert, Mathieu (Jeremie Elkaim) embarks from Paris by bullet train for a return to the Brittany seaside home of his family, where he enjoyed a summer of love with Cedric (Rideau) 18 months before. As he records his journey into a tape recorder, pic cuts back to that happier time, which was nevertheless undercut by tensions, including a depressed mother (Dominique Reymond), suffering the loss of her youngest to cancer, and a thoroughly bitchy sister, Sarah (Laetitia Legrix).
When Cedric notices Mathieu, Lifshitz’ camera at first suggests that he’s some kind of stalker. But Mathieu slowly falls into an erotic tryst with the slightly older, more physical young man. The pair feels safest at night, when they slip away to the beach; but this isn’t the early closeted ’60s of “Wild Reeds,” and soon, the guys are easily playing with each other in the burning, bright sunlight. Sarah knows what’s up right away, but mom and her caretaker and family friend Annick (Marie Matheron) are slower to fully grasp what is going on.
Notably, the lovers do not open up about their mutually difficult families and backgrounds until long after they’ve done it in the sand and elsewhere (shown in the growing French trend of frank but non-exploitative regard for the entire body, though, in this case, withholding shots of penetration). Like all vacations, this one must end, but Mathieu and Cedric decide to live together, with Mathieu moving from Paris to Nantes for his university studies.
The course of the love story is rhythmically interrupted by Mathieu’s return to the resort, now alone, more withdrawn and thinner, and by his being nursed in a psychiatric ward, where he was taken suffering from a suicidal depression. Lifshitz and Bouquet have fully absorbed the time-traveling lessons of Alain Resnais, fracturing their story as the mind can do to events.Elkaim and Rideau form opposite poles of attraction, and signs of their conflicts are just slightly indicated by the actors so that there’s no need to see their break-up. Their performances are wonderfully naturalistic, expressing a freedom of body and spirit through almost purely visual means. Legrix’s character, however, does little more than fill the stock homophobe slot.Pascal Poucet’s summer and winter lensing keenly captures faces, bodies and landscapes, while Yann Dedet’s crisscross editing, dynamically counterpointing black night and glaring day, is invaluable.