Film review: Paris 05:59 (dir. Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau)
The pleasures and the anxieties or gay sex are on full naked display in the French drama Paris 05:59 (aka Théo et Hugo dans le même bateau) a sort of unique blend of Weekend and Before Sunrise with the explicit sex of Shortbus as two men, Theo and Hugo, navigate an underground sex club before eventually roaming the streets of Paris in real time from 4:27am to 5:59am.
Already notorious for a lengthy gay sex club orgy sequence that opens the film, Paris 05:59 proves to be much more than just a titillating night out for the boys (the characters and the audience) as it sidesteps to some very poignant observations of modern gay coupling.
The 18-minute orgy sequence that opens the film isn’t just erotic and sexually arousing, but artistic and deeply revealing of a part of the queer culture. Bathed in deep red and blue lights, it could almost be mistaken for a scene from Wakefield Poole’s extraordinary classic experimental art-porn feature Bijou. It is here where Theo and Hugo first lay eyes on each other, the curly-haired and hairy-chested Theo clearly infatuated by Hugo, watching him from across the room of the basement sex room wherein there is no shortage of naked male bodies, thrusting and bumping and moaning to steal his attention. The pair eventually lock eyes and proceed to ignore the rest of the room, their sweaty bodies coming together (so to speak) as if it’s love at first sight.
When they leave the club they do not part ways, and instead venture out into the Parisian streets together, but the revelation that Hugo is HIV-positive sends the two to the emergency room so that Theo can get immediate antiretroviral medications since in the heat of passion he had failed to put on a condom. These scenes could have easily been preachy and shaming, but signifying the film’s mature approach to gay sex, it instead treats it as a means of confronting the very significant realities that face gay, bisexual and transgender men. A lot of men—myself included—will have had to make the one-night-stand morning after trip to the hospital or sexual health clinic for PEP, and the way directors Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau handle it will no doubt echo with the realities, the stresses, and the self-defeating anger that come with it.
Hugo, like all men with HIV, is more than his disease and so too is Paris 05:59 more than just “the gay orgy movie” or “the PEP emergency movie”. Hugo and Theo leave the hospital and continue to spend time together, but like life it is scattered and messy and beautiful all at once. They fight, their raw emotions that sprung forth from their night unable to be kept inside just for the sake of niceties and putting on a good show for the object of their affection. But this is why the film ultimately succeeds. It takes many different parts of gay life—the hedonistic sex, the complications that can come from the very real and still relevant aspect of HIV, the freedoms that come away from the gaze of others, the often lingering desires that something more can be built out of the immediacy of our instant gratifications—and assembles them together into something deeply moving and that people who are brave enough to sit through (that confronting opening sequence will no doubt burn more than a few bridges, but it’s their loss) will surely find powerful and revealing.
Of course, none of this would have worked if the right actors weren’t chosen and thankfully Geoffrey Couët and François Nambot have electric chemistry. So much so that when the clock ticks over to 6am, audiences will no doubt be willing and able to believe their story progresses well into the future away from the intensity of their first meeting.