You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Berlin Film Review: ‘Paris 05:59’

Everyone will talk about the 18-minute gay orgy at the start, but the real achievement lies in how Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau capture love at first sight.

Geoffrey Couet, Francois Nambot, Georges Daaboul, Elodie Adler, Claire Deschamps, Marief Guittier.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5096628/

Some books make you like the characters so much that you close the covers and imagine a happy future life for them together. That rarely happens in the cinema anymore, but “Paris 05:59” is that kind of film. This might surprise some, given that its biggest talking point will be the 18-minute hardcore gay orgy at the start, yet the film, conceived in real time, is above all a story about what happens when that bolt of lightning called love suddenly strikes. Co-helmers Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau (“Family Tree”) deliver their boldest and best work so far, and while some hetero audiences will unquestionably feel sidelined by the explicit orgy, the loss is theirs.

On a marketing level, the English title doesn’t give anything away and is awkward to say, whereas a direct translation of the French title, referencing Jacques Rivette’s “Celine and Julie Go Boating,” would be lost on many. Things kick off at 4.27 a.m. (time is announced graphically, imitating a cell-phone display) in a sex club bathed in red light. In a sea of naked men, Theo (Geoffrey Couet) stands apart, riveted by Hugo (Francois Nambot), who is penetrating an anonymous partner. Theo joins the orgy to be near Hugo; their eyes lock, and the two ditch their buddies to engage in passionate (and graphic) sex.

When spent, they exit together, Theo staring with semi-dazed incredulity at the object of his “coup de foudre.” The streets of Paris are empty and the pair don’t want to part, so they rent bikes and sail along the nighttime boulevards, with Hugo disarmingly chattering about love. Then he realizes that Theo, the active partner, didn’t use a condom when in the throes of desire, and wasn’t aware that Hugo is HIV-positive.

The dazed Theo passes from incredulity to anger as Hugo explains they need to get to a hospital pronto. Calmer tempers prevail in the emergency room (a loudmouth homophobe adds just the right amount of absurdist humor to cut the tension), and Theo is prescribed antiretroviral meds, with regular checkups to ensure he’s not infected. Once outside again, the two young men continue their night out, discovering each other as they eat, talk of Balzac (this is a French movie after all), and confirm that falling in love really can happen in a moment.

There’s something stirringly essential about “Paris 05:59,” partly thanks to the late-night-inspired sensation that Theo and Hugo have the world to themselves, and can make it into whatever they want. There are other characters, including a Syrian kebab vendor (Georges Daaboul) and an older woman on the metro (Marief Guittier), yet their kindnesses reinforce an Oz-like quality of a calmer, quasi-magical world where good things are allowed to happen.

On the subject of good things, it’s sobering to think that, on every level, this film couldn’t have been made 15 years ago or more. First, the lengthy, graphic sex scene could never have appeared outside a porn film (Ducastel and Martineau prove that hardcore can also be essential). But also, the kind of antiretroviral medication prescribed didn’t exist then; nonjudgmental hospital staff were a rarity; kissing openly on the streets, even at nighttime, was fraught with danger. Theo and Hugo’s world isn’t perfect, and their relationship holds no guarantees, but as in Andrew Haigh’s “Weekend,” there’s something thrilling about watching a gay couple meeting with such honesty and potential for future happiness.

Hugo’s garrulous, childlike sincerity and sense of wonder is marvelously matched by Theo’s open-faced hesitancy in jumping into the unknown, all helped immeasurably by the palpable chemistry between leads Nambot and Couet. Many will likely pigeonhole them as being the actors in the “gay orgy film,” but they, and the movie, deserve far more credit for scope and achievement.

The appearance of real-time shooting, with long takes as the duo bike or run through Paris’ largely deserted streets, give a sense of urgency to their partnership as the two race to make the most of the minutes that pass by so quickly. Novice lenser Manuel Marmier does a beautiful job capturing the mood and the nighttime glow of the City of Light, via gliding traveling shots that never lose sight of the subjects. The music feels fresh and alive.

Popular on Variety

Berlin Film Review: 'Paris 05:59'

Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Panorama), Feb. 15, 2016. Running time: 97 MIN. (Original title: “Theo et Hugo dans le meme bateau”)

Production: (France) An Epicentre Films release of an Ecce Films, Epicentre Films production. (International sales: Ecce Films, Paris.) Produced by Emmanuel Chaumet. Co-producers, Daniel Chabannes, Corentin Senechal.

Crew: Directed, written by Olivier Ducastel, Jacques Martineau. Camera (color, widescreen), Manuel Marmier; editor, Pierre Deschamps; music, Karelle-Kuntur; production designers, Barnabe d’Hauteville, Clara Noel; sound, Tristan Pontecaille, Clement Badin, Victor Praud; assistant director, Maxence Germain; casting, Simon Frenay.

With: Geoffrey Couet, Francois Nambot, Georges Daaboul, Elodie Adler, Claire Deschamps, Marief Guittier.

More Film

  • Steven Spielberg Branko Lustig

    'He Left Me Speechless': Steven Spielberg Remembers Branko Lustig

    Steven Spielberg has offered a touching remembrance of Branko Lustig, the Holocaust survivor who produced “Schindler’s List” with Spielberg and Gerald Molen and died Thursday in Croatia. “I was heartbroken to hear of Branko’s passing and my thoughts are with his family and friends,” Spielberg said. “When we first met to discuss ‘Schindler’s List,’ he [...]

  • Dylan Brosnan and Paris BrosnanGolden Globe

    Pierce Brosnan’s Sons Paris and Dylan Brosnan Named 2020 Golden Globe Ambassadors

    Pierce Brosnan’s two youngest sons, Paris and Dylan Brosnan, have been named as the 2020 Golden Globe Ambassadors, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association announced on Thursday evening. Paris and Dylan are also the sons of journalist and author Keely Shaye Smith. The ambassador(s), a title that typically goes to the son or daughter of a [...]

  • Joaquin Phoenix'Joker' film premiere, Arrivals, 57th

    Film News Roundup: Joaquin Phoenix Honored by Palm Springs Film Festival

    In today’s film news roundup, Joaquin Phoenix is honored for “Joker”; Legion M backs Joe Manganiello’s “Archenemy”; sales have launched on “Lev Yashin: The Dream Goalkeeper”; Warner Bros. shuffles execs and Universal launches a first-of-its-kind animation writing program. HONOR Joaquin Phoenix has been selected as the recipient of the Palm Springs International Film Festival’s chairman’s [...]

  • Danny Huston

    Danny Huston Discusses the Significance of 'Last Photograph'

    In the decades since Danny Huston made his feature directing debut with “Mr. North,” his 1988 film adaptation of the Thornton Wilder novel “Theophilus North,” he has kept busy in front of the cameras as one of film and television’s most versatile and sophisticated character players. In just the past year, small-screen viewers have been [...]

  • Rocketman

    'Rocketman': Chris Dickens Discusses the Inside Story of Editing 'I'm Still Standing'

    Endings are so important and how the viewer leaves the cinema is crucial. For editor Chris Dickens, finding the perfect ending for “Rocketman” was paramount, but it was also a challenge. Elton John’s hit “I’m Still Standing” was going to end the film with the original idea of going to Cannes to recreate the video [...]

  • A general view of the skyline

    United Media Asia Strikes Deal With Indonesian Giant Kompas Gramedia

    Newly-formed content finance, production and distribution company United Media Asia has struck a first look deal, brokered by Hollywood talent agency CAA, with Indonesian media giant Kompas Gramedia. United has also unveiled its first two feature films. The partnership provides UMA with access to Kompas Gramedia’s media network and its 100,000 pieces of intellectual property, [...]

  • Taron Egerton Fashion

    Taron Egerton's Stylist Used Elton John as Inspiration on Press Tour

    Showstopping looks: For Taron Egerton’s “Rocketman” tour, stylist Gareth Scourfield nodded to Elton John’s iconic wardrobe with bold colors, patterns and silhouettes: “We got a bit more eccentric.” May 16 “Elton is the real original showman,” says Scourfield, who met Egerton through another client, Egerton’s “Rocketman” co-star Richard Madden. “Part of Taron as a man [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content