Weaving numerous influences into a rich emotional tapestry, Alain Guiraudie’s The King of Escape skillfully absorbs and updates its assertive cinematic forebears.
Part Pierrot Le Fou, part Mauvais Sang, it features an expressionistic narrative punctuated with stylized proclamations on sex, death, and other French obsessions. Yet The King of Escape maintains an emotionally resonant affect, its characters never seeming less than lifelike.
Armand (Ludovic Berthillot) and Curly (Hafsia Herzi) are a middle-age gay man and teenage girl who, counter to expectations, fall in love and run off together after Armand rescues Curly from a potential rape. Guiraudie, who followed this 2009 picture with the superb Stranger by the Lake, exhibits a fascination with the puzzling ways in which desire enacts itself — his follow-up concerned a man who falls for a known murderer.
Guiraudie’s project is the demystification of sexuality, the disempowering of its engendered anxieties via a depiction of sex that is simultaneously comic, absurd, and realistic. In one of The King of Escape‘s funniest scenes, Armand is confronted by his boss for being depressed at work, which Armand confirms. The reason? Armand is attracted to his superior, and asks to perform oral sex on the man. The boss acquiesces with the proviso that Armand return to work as usual.
Ridiculous as it sounds, Guiraudie’s direction is always intimate and empathetic, never sensationalistic, and the love scenes between Armand and Curly take on a striking tenderness while nevertheless representing an intellectual takedown of the distinctions typically present in conceptions of “sexuality.”