Though far from radical—it’s hardly a commercial or artistic risk to present a sad, pretty boy as an object of contemplation—Come Undone does at least advance the coming-of-age gay movie one crucial step. Nudging the frayed template (incredibly true adventures of two boys in love) from under its security blanket of warm, affirmational fuzzies into a more sober and realistic light, Sébastien Lifshitz’s minor-key ballad sticks around to soundtrack the dazed aftermath of the idyll.
The film shuttles back and forth, sometimes awkwardly, among three time frames: a drab, frigid winter that sees haunted-looking Mathieu (Jérémie Elkaïm) traveling alone to a French seaside town where he hides out at his family’s vacation home; a languid summer at the same spot not so long ago, when Mathieu meets and falls for the strapping, more experienced Cédric (Stéphane Rideau); and a hazy period in between, during which Mathieu (then living with Cédric) lands in a psychiatric hospital after a suicide attempt.
Mindful of marketplace requirements, Lifshitz fulfills the lech quota and then some: moonlit wet-sand frolics, crotch-level camera angles, complimentary dick shots, even a fucking-in-the-dunes porn fantasy. When in doubt, the director reverts to opacity; he elides entirely the circumstances of the young lovers’ breakup, which is a bit of a cheat given how persistently he circles it. (The presence of Rideau, star of Wild Reeds, can’t help but invoke André Téchiné, who would have infused this hopscotching narrative with twice the urgency and candor.) But Mathieu’s matter-of-factly depicted depression is at least in keeping with the sketchy portrait of his home life: contemptuous sister, pill-popping mother, absent father. And it’s gratifying that the protagonist’s homosexuality is almost beside the point. Come Undone‘s true subject is, simply enough, the perspective-warping enormity of first love, as preserved in a scrapbook of before-and-after snapshots. Squeamishly aware of the sentimental traps built into his scenario, Lifshitz embalms the initial seismic recognitions and the crashing descent to earth, bypassing almost all intervening dramas.
Francis Veber’s boilerplate farce The Closet, on the other hand, tumbles happily into every pitfall that lines its well-trodden path. Veber co-scripted that ageless histrionic fit of mistaken sexual identity, La Cage aux Folles (in which a flaming queen mirthfully attempts to decampify), and here basically inverts the premise. Daniel Auteuil stars as Pignon, a put-upon accountant at a condom factory who escapes retrenchment by pretending to be gay—his employers won’t risk a potential scandal and consumer boycott. Table-turning hijinks duly follow, the most elaborate ones involving meathead colleague Gérard Depardieu. Auteuil deftly plays against type, but to what end? Three’s Company reruns are on every night and they’re free.