TIFF 2013: Gerontophilia (dir. Bruce LaBruce) / Young and Beautiful (dir. François Ozon)
Two films about teenage sexuality yielding contrasting results: Bruce LaBruce's Gerontophilia is a hilarious and heartbreaking portrait of a teenager's passion for an octogenarian, while François Ozon's Young & Beautiful is a chic yet tacky take on a teenage girl's decision to prostitute herself.
Canada, 2013 -- Dir. Bruce LaBruce
Lake (Pier-Gabriel Lajoie) the dreamy teen hero of Bruce LaBruce's wonderful latest, Geronotophilia, has a thing for older guys. And by that I mean really older guys, such as those occupying the Corps a Coeur rest home where his mother is working. When Lake also lands a job at this facility it's like he's entered the erotic paradise of his dreams: he can't stop peeping at gowns coming agape and revealing wrinkly male body parts. And his eyes widen with glee when he's assigned to give a sponge bath to a resident, Melvin Peabody (Walter Boden), with whom he ends up falling in love.
It's not long before Lake and Mr. Peabody have turned the latter's private room into a gay sanctuary of sorts -- with shirts off, booze flowing and camp quips abounding. For, once weaned off his medication, Mr. Peabody turns out to be a humorous, cultured type who's a bit taken aback by becoming the object of Lake's desire but accepts it -- and reciprocates -- with good grace. "I like the way you look now," Lake assures Mr. Peabody when the latter shows him some photos of himself in younger days. To which Mr. Peabody deadpans: "What medication are you on?"
LaBruce, the Canadian auteur known for his sexually explicit, formally daring work, delivers his sweetest movie to date in Gerontophilia, to the extent that some critics have seen the film as something of a commercial cop-out. But to make a movie about a teenage boy's erotic obsession with the elderly and to make it this human and funny and true is subversive enough. "A gay Harold and Maude" is the kneejerk reference for the movie but Gerontophilia carves out its own distinctive niche (while also tipping its hat to such taboo-busters as Todd Solondz and John Waters). The title suggests a clinical study, but the movie could hardly be warmer, more tactile and approachable. LaBruce writes lovely fresh details into the scenes and there are some priceless, laugh-out-loud funny dialogue exchanges.
What's most heartening about LaBruce's approach is that he lets Lake and Mr. Peabody's relationship develop without the descent into bitterness and acrimony that marred the May-to-December affair in Roger Michell's The Mother (2003). Here, as there, a sketchbook of nude drawings serves as a means of revelation for a character, in this case Lake's girlfriend Desiree (Katie Boland), but her response isn't the one you might anticipate. Boland totally aces her role as the endearing hipster girlfriend who's forever quoting her cultural idols, and who flips out over her book-store boss's mouth-watering collection of work by "Canadian feminist writers".
Lajoie takes a while to warm up as Lake. But his tentative quality in the early scenes is oddly winning and it makes sense that he becomes more assured as the movie progresses and the character becomes more accepting of his orientation. And Boden's savvy performance is a gem of humour and humanity. It's not unpredictable that Lake and Mr. Peabody become lovers-on-the-lam, breaking out of the home for a road trip to the ocean. But the journey is full of wonderfully observed insights, and makes the viewer feel giddy with happiness.
That goes for the whole movie, in fact. Heartbreaking and hilarious, gorgeously scored, and as tender as it is transgressive, Gerontophilia is a delicious piece of work all round.
Young & Beautiful
France, 2013 -- Dir. François Ozon
Young & Beautiful, the new work by another queer auteur, François Ozon, wants to be delicious and transgressive too, but falls flat -- or at least it did for this critic; a lot of audience members seemed to be having a good time. It's a rare Ozon film that makes no connection with me, but the glossy Young & Beautiful left me cold.
The tale of a well-off 17-year-old, Isabelle's, decision to prostitute herself, the movie does start engagingly enough, opening at the prime Ozon location (a beach resort) and sketching teasingly ambiguous relations between Isabelle (Marine Vacth) and her family members. (The film opens with her younger brother observing her through a pair of binoculars.) At the beach an uncomfortable "deflowering" takes place, an incident that seems to motivate our heroine to embark upon her secret career. (Her motivations are, otherwise, left oh-so-chicly opaque.)
But once Isabelle starts meeting with her clients the movie becomes a whole lot less interesting than it might have been. Ozon has proved himself a master at wrong-footing viewers in the past -- at twisting scenes in unexpected, subversive directions -- but his sure touch seems to desert him here and the movie's shifts between moods feel heavy-handed - right up to the late, supposedly revelatory cameo by his actrice fétiche Charlotte Rampling, playing the wife of one of Isabelle's regular johns.
Ozon certainly puts Vacth through her paces and the actress gives a committed performance. But the director's usually expressive touch with sex scenes also seems to be fatally lacking. Rather, there's a leering, prurient quality to the way that the sex is filmed here that I found myself recoiling from. The movie is bright and attractive on the surface but hollow, shallow: it's a junior, jejune Belle de Jour.