Main cast: Jérémie Elkaïm (Mathieu), Stéphane Rideau (Cédric), Dominique Reymond (Mathieu’s Mother), Marie Matheron (Annick), Laetitia Legrix (Sarah), Nils Ohlund (Pierre), and Réjane Kerdaffrec (the Psychiatrist)
Director: Sébastien Lifshitz
This is a French movie, so rather predictably one could expect nudity and sex scenes from obscenely beautiful people. This is also a movie with artistic pretensions, so that means everyone is miserable. However, there is no ending where everyone either dies from tragic circumstances or spends the rest of their lives alone while holding desperately to memories of a brief moment of bliss. Instead, Presque rien is an exquisite portrayal of how beautiful love blossoms between two young men one summer and how painful it is when love falls apart a year and a half later.
The two men playing the lead characters are almost unreal in how gorgeous they are, let me warn you people in advance, so really, if you happen to get your hands by mistake on a copy of this show that doesn’t come with English subtitles and you can’t understand French, don’t return the DVD before watching it first anyway. Whether clothed or in swim trunks (the slender and elfin Jérémie Elkaïm spends a lot of time frolicking in the beach in tight black bikini-style swim trunks while the beefier Stéphane Rideau favors shorts, so it’s a democracy of sorts for people who like to see cute guys in swimsuits, period), these two men happily push this show from the pretentiously dour department to the “Oh my oh, if only I was a teenager living in that place!” department. It is also my public duty, I think, to warn everyone of the fact that these two men aren’t afraid of full frontal nudity and there is one shockingly explicit if brief love scene in the beach complete with thrusting buttocks and all.
But really, do try to pay attention to the story because it’s a sublime portrayal of how a damaged sensitive young man at the verge of clinical depression can fall in love with an equally damaged bad boy. The movie weaves seamlessly from the present day to the past. When this movie opens, a presumably older Mathieu tries to commit suicide. He is rescued in time and, under the counsel of the hospital psychiatrist, slowly recovers. Along the way, his love affair with bad boy Cédric that takes place about a year and a half ago also unfolds. Mathieu lives in a seaside small town at the south of France. His mother is clinically depressed and his sister Annick seems to have withdrawn into her shell. He, Annick, and his mother live with Mathieu’s aunt Sarah who often finds herself being the person to keep her three relatives from drifting apart farther from each other. One day, Mathieu encounters the bad boy Cédric while he is frolicking around in his fetching swim trunks in the beach. Cédric is a troubled kid who is exiled to this small town after one mishap too many in his big city home. These two kids will indulge in a summer fling that, by the time Cédric has to return home, has blossomed into something more complicated than a summer sex romp. But those two teenagers are clearly not mature enough to deal with their feelings, and to Mathieu, he is pushed over the brink into clinical depression when the world comes crashing down around him.
This story moves from the present, when Cédric tries to understand Mathieu and get him back, to the past, when those two slowly confront their developing feelings for each other and the consequences of their relationship on the people around them (Mathieu’s family, specifically), and back again. Both story arcs are beautifully developed and acted. Jérémie Elkaïm is the anchor and glue that holds this movie together: while he seems to take on an unearthly glow of a very beautiful martyr that is simultaneously painful and exquisite to watch in his role as the poor tormented Mathieu, he conveys Mathieu’s pain and confusion beautifully through his eyes and expressive facial expressions. Mathieu, as a character, is akin to pain and vulnerability made beautiful and even seductive.
Anyone fearing another terrible ending where everyone dies or lives miserably need not fear though: while the ending is far from a happy ending in the sense that Mathieu and Cédric do not run into each other’s arms while a triumphant love song reaches a crescendo in the background, the ending isn’t also a bitter or tragic one. In fact, I would say that it isn’t even an ending, more like a point where the movie ends without any definite resolutions. But it is clear by that point that Cédric isn’t going to let Mathieu slip away without a fight while Mathieu is only starting on his path to self-discovery. Maybe one day Mathieu will make peace with himself and his life, and maybe one day Cédric will find the maturity to keep Mathieu by his side instead of unintentionally driving the young man away. Maybe one day those two will meet again and make peace with each other, who knows?
And I find the fact that this movie ends on a high note of maybe gives it a more poignant and bittersweet quality. Presque rien could have been merely sweet eye candy, but it tries to be more than that: a sensitive coming-of-age love story that ends with a note of hope rather than outright pessimism. The end result is a movie that is haunting and lingers on like an evocative love song in the mind long after the credits have rolled.