Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sat Jun 13, 2020 5:29 pm 
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Three-part "Pride" offers snapshots of contemporary French LGBT history


Fiertés /Pride is a vital, action-packed three-part French mini-series presented on Arte TV (now on Kino Marquee in the US from June 19, 2020) directed by Philippe Faucon and co-written by scenarists José Caltagirone and Niels Rahou that focuses on the life of three generations and three fates of gay men, including Victor (Benjamin Voisin, later Samuel Theis), Serge (Stanislas Nordey) and (adopted son) Diego (Julien Lopez). Each fifty-two-minute episode focuses on a period and an event through a few individuals: the first in 1981 (moment of the election of socialist François Mitterand and the decriminalization of homosexuality); the second in 1999 (the creation of the PACS, Pacte civil de solidarité, civil union); the third in 2013 (the adoption of the Taubira law, introduced by Christiane Taubira, France's first black female Justice Minister, allowing same-sex marriage).

Fiertés/Pride is one of the best short treatments around that places individual gay lives squarely in the context of politics and society of specific points in time; hence Cahiers du Cinéma logically described it as "one of the most exciting series of the year" and the film scored high with French critics. Of course in its attempt to touch all the bases it can seem to be box-checking at times and severely stretch some characters - and actors - to fit the 32-year time span of the chronology. But there is no question of the rich relevance of the material and the authenticity of the emotion. An outstanding cast fielded by the casting director of the 2017 major French gay film and Cannes Grand Prix gay film BPM (Beats Per Minute) (which favored gay actors in gay roles) also includes contributions from Emanuelle Bercot and Claudia Mastroianni as well as Jérémie Elkaïm and other well known actors.

At the center of the first two segments is Victor, who wants to become an architect and later does become a successful one. In 1981, at the age of 17, Victor (Benjamin Voisin) seems to have a completely "normal" life: he is preparing for his "bac," his high school diploma, spends time with his girlfriend Aurélie (Sophie Quinton) and works weekends on a construction site where the boss is his father Charles (Frédéric Pierrot). There he meets Sélim (Sami Outalbali), the foreman's young son. Very quickly, they fall in love, or in lust, anyway. His father sees them secretly making out on the work site, arguably a problem whatever the sexuality. Charles is a leftist, in favor of minority rights, but this is another story. He sees a boy kissing a boy as dirty and disgusting. He also sees marriage for his son and grandchildren for him and his wife going out the window. He immediately blames Sélim, whom he fires, claiming he's a bad worker, a blatant injustice that ends his friendship with the foreman. He convinces himself that Selim must have led Victor astray and that with Selim out of his life all will be well.

Victor tries to repress his feelings for men but can't. One desperate night, as he ventures into a gay meeting place, he meets Serge (Stanislas Nordey), a gay activist 20 years his senior. Their relationship, which becomes serious, will gradually force Victor to fully acknowledge his homosexuality. Charles, who does not understand his son, will then force him to make a choice between Serge and his family. He will then understand that to live his love story, he will have to fight against prejudices and against society in general. At Serge's urging, Victor comes out to his parents, but it goes very badly with his father. As soon as he's 18, he is a free agent and goes to live with Serge. And this is when Mitterrand is elected to the start of what would be and unprecedented 14 years in office as President of France.

In the second episode, it's 12 years later. Victor (now played by Samuel Theis) is 36 and a successful architect (independently, working a lot at home), still living with Serge, now HIV-positive, unsure of his future, who's a counselor - which brings in a new young "Victor," a boy fighting with his parents. When Victor tries to explain to his father that he wants to adopt a child with Serge, Charles says to his son: "But what more do you want?" Victor then simply answers him: "I don't want anything more, I just want the same thing as everyone else." That's a line that simply sums up the subject of Pride and the fights fought by homosexuals: no longer needing to hide and simply living the same life others live - no more, no less. Charles and Victor are reconciled now, sort of. In the political climate, as a strong Mitterand supporter, Charles tolerates his son's sexual orientation and the importance of Serge, though with difficulty.

The action is tangled in the second episode, with Victor struggling, because nobody really supports him, not the state, not his father, not even Serge, who objects that he may not live long enough to be a good parent, though Victor points out to him doctors have said he may live decades. Chiara Mastroianni enters (with her usual beautiful modesty) as the social worker Victor tries to convince that he is fit to be a single parent. He can't show that he's gay because, while it's no longer illegal, gay parents get rejected for adoptions. When Chiara interviews Charles, without telling her his son is gay, obeying Victor's request that he lie for him, he nonetheless hints that Victor has a relationship he's not telling about, and his adoption request is rejected. Episode 2 is mainly a picture of the frustrations of trying to lead a full life as a gay person even in a relatively tolerant climate. Nicolas Cazalé, who was in a famous 2000's French gay film, appears as the adult Selim, now himself a construction foreman, who's trying to live as a straight married man with kids, but with a secret gay life Victor doesn't want to participate in.

Complications abound in Episode 3, where the main focus is Diego (Julien Lopez), the adopted son, a lycée student. Dark, long-haired, hunky, and striking-looking, Lopez dominates the screen with his warm and vibrant presence, passion, and big smile. He is strong, but he has a lot to contend with. It starts with ragging from teammates for having gay parents. He takes refuge from the sometimes cold Victor, who's replaying his own daddy issues, with "Papi," Charles, gray-bearded and retired and mellow now and a warm support. It gets even more complicated in this episode when a new girlfriend, Noémie (Rebecca Marder) is hospitalized when she accidentally takes Ecstasy and her parents and bigot brother Paul (Hugo Sire) blame him - and his "fake" parents. Meanwhile Victor has gotten a serious beating from extremists when he's late joining a pro-gay marriage rally, which draws in former lover Pio (Jérémie Elkaïm, who starred in a famous French gay film). Serge is worn down by decades of surviving with HIV with side effects from meds and wants to die. Alas, he does not live to officially marry Victor under the new French law, but there is no sadness, and the episode ends with smiles and the feeling that, though always too slowly perhaps, the world has become more on our side.

Pride/Fiertés, 156 mins. in 3 segments, Arte TV mini-series, opens in virtual cinema in the US starting Fri., June 19, 2020, courtesy of Kino Marquee.


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