Between François Ozon’s edgy queer dramas and Ang Lee’s humanistic melodramas, the French gay drama “Lie with Me” helmed by Olivier Peyon, has the taste of a well-bred cognac that tells its oft-repeated story of longing, separation, and redemption with a tender (but not dazzling or dizzying enough) queer touch. Adapted from Philippe Besson’s 2017 eponymous novel (the French title is Arrête avec tes Mensonges / Stop With Your Lies), this 2022 considerate drama finally arrives in the US market (VOD & DVD) as well.

The lies are easy to predict in this otherwise bookish film, in which the book culture is (as it should be) celebrated, doubted, and restored. Middle-aged Paris writer Stéphane Belcourt (Guillaume de Tonquédec, an actor of international caliber since Krzysztof Kieslowski’s “The Double Life of Veronique” [1991]) is asked to spend a weekend as a guest of honor in the annual festival of his Cognac hometown – a town he left after his high-school studies, but now returning in glory, being assured that his books have made its inhabitants cry.

The openly gay writer (but not that ‘modern’ gay, as his hosts will tell him) dresses and behaves casually with only a scarf around his neck to denote his literary status. His first lie: he wrote a short story about brandy even though he never touches a glass of drink, and he chokes once when doing so. Are there more lies to be told? He is soon to be shaken by a young person and guide, Lucas Andrieu (Victor Belmondo, grandson of the celebrated French actor, in a welcome turn and a role with a few turns). The very polite Lucas happens to be the son of Stéphane’s first love, Thomas Andrieu.

With Thomas now dead (a sudden death, we are told), Lucas needs to reconcile his father’s discreetness (“You can’t say I was a child of love,” he tells Stéphane). From his side, Stéphane bathes deeply into his past, and, in a well-placed series of flashbacks, we learn more about the boys’ relationship between the discreet, masculine Thomas (Julien de Saint Jean) and the bookworm, bespectacled Stéphane (Jérémy Gillet). The first fling, the relationship, and the bitter separation after high school are laid out for us to watch in a fresh and spirited way.

Lie with Me (2022) Movie Review
A still from Lie with Me (2022)

Taking away from this relationship, which is understandably lighter and more luminous than the autumnal look the film generally adopts, makes the film less than a coming-of-age story and more of a coming-to-terms affair. Yet it is to the capacity of Peyon and his editing process (editor: Damien Maestraggi) that we feel connected to both the past and the present. The well-handled love scenes reveal the budding love to be discovered and inquired about, and the present occasion, the chagrin of a person who lost his first love 30+ years ago.

The story unfolds (especially in its second and third acts) more as a negotiation between the opulent but imposing present and the carefree, noncommittal past. Film locations shine between interiors (some of them shot in the famous Hennessy Cognac properties) and exteriors, with the quintessential naked bath scene between the boys beautifully made. Peyon’s camera has the habit of slowly zooming in on the character pairs before cutting, making their hidden emotions more understandable and the film pace more sober and relatable. At the same time, the film’s plot twists (even though warranted) feel rushed -as if invented to move the characters along from their sense of helplessness. There is some mystery to face here (how did Thomas die and why Lucas is so fixated upon Stéphane?), even though the Thomas Andrieu character (the absent Other) is predominantly defined in third-person terms.

A welcome, well-grounded realism permeates the film and makes it less of an elegy of a long-lost love -rather a re-learning of complex modes of dealing with trauma. The character of the earthly Gaëlle (Guilaine Londez) is well-placed to remind us that between middle-aged male resignation and young male vigor, there is another viewpoint of a person who can still adapt while being traumatized; the scene with her sitting between Stéphane and Lucas in the back of the car beautifully captures the film’s politics. While Jérémy Gillet and Julien de Saint Jean can easily steal their show in their scenes together, with an undeniable rapport, Guillaume de Tonquédec makes a solid case of a person enclosed in his safe mode environment (to be shaken up by Lucas).

“Lie with Me” has more emotions and sentiments in the air than the script can accommodate. Yet this discrepancy amiably gives it a welcome feeling of a cognac being poured into the glass for too long -like the story Stéphane Belcourt tells the happy Cognac tourists as part of his ‘funny face’ demeanor. We don’t always get the reasons and the dramatic tensions to test the film’s characters. But we are mostly pleased that the incidents make the characters burst into memories of an era long gone by. Even though those memories make them head to a graveyard visit (before returning to participate in the celebration of the writer), the emotional flow they cause is present. The film’s mourning is real, its longing is relevant, and its need to find a way to command your story of life is always felt.

Read More: 15 Essential Indian Short Films on Queer Love

Lie with Me (2022) Movie Links: IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes, Wikipedia, Letterboxd
Lie with Me (2022) Movie Cast: Guillaume de Tonquédec, Victor Belmondo, Guilaine Londez, Jérémy Gillet, Julien de Saint-Jean
Lie with Me (2022) Movie Genre: Drama/Romance, Runtime: 1h 38m
Where to watch Lie with Me (2023)

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