Reviewer: Freda Cooper
Directors: Olivier Ducastel, Jacques Martineau
Stars: Geoffrey Couet, Francois Nambot
Released 9th September 2016
2016 is the year when some independent European film makers got real – setting their movies in real time. Back in the spring, German heist movie ‘Victoria’ was shot in one long take. Now French love story ‘Theo & Hugo’, which is released in both cinemas and online, has been shot in real time. Both in the near-empty early morning streets of Paris.
It’s the small hours of the morning and Theo (Geoffrey Couet) and Hugo (Francois Nambot) are both in a sex club. Theo looks uncomfortable, like it’s his first time, but he spots Hugo and eventually their eyes and bodies meet. After their prolonged and intense encounter, they leave the club together and, meandering lazily through the streets of the city, the reality of what they’ve done hits them and starts to sink in. Does this mean the end before they’ve even started? Or is it actually just the beginning?
For anybody with a more traditional, nay old fashioned, view of relationships, their relationship is back to front. But, according to the film, in these days of smartphone apps and sex clubs, sex comes first. Getting to know each other – and falling in love – comes later. Although it’s clear from that first scene in the club that when they make physical contact, something more profound, more emotional is happening. Wham, bam, thank you man it isn’t.
But their love making doesn’t come without risks – nor do their feelings for each other – and it’s that risk that brings them closer together. One of them is HIV positive and they didn’t have safe sex. That realisation produces a certain amount of fear, but this isn’t the 80s, so there are helplines to give advice and their visit to A & E at the hospital is comparatively matter of fact and low-key. And the young female doctor they meet is practical and calm.
The key to the film’s success is whether or not we buy into the relationship between the couple and believe that they genuinely fall in love. And we do. They’re both quite different in many ways – one a city dweller with curly auburn hair, the other darker and from the provinces. Hugo is the more romantic one, more prone to declarations of love, but Theo has recently come out of a relationship and is more inclined to hold back. This is no hearts and flowers romance. The two writer/directors are determined not to give us anything sugar-coated, instead bringing to us something spontaneous and as close to reality as they can get.
Twenty minutes of sex as the opening scene might be asking a bit much from audiences and it may seem overlong. It’s almost like an initiation test. If you can get through it – and remember, it’s not meant to be in the slightest bit salacious – you’ll find that the rest of the film is engaging, fresh, frank and unexpectedly tender. We don’t know what will happen to Theo and Hugo in the future – we don’t know that about ourselves either – but we hope they get the answers they want and the life they want together. Because as the film finishes, their lives together begin.