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Our Paradise

Notre paradis

4.5 stars out of five

Reviewed at the 2012 Inside Out Toronto LGBT Film and Video Festival
Death of a Hustler

“Old age is too late for discovery,” offers the now reclusive, wealthy queen, Victor (Didier Flamand, miles away from The Chorus, cross-reference below) on behalf of director/writer Gaël Morel to his decidedly queer houseguests (rugged Stéphane Rideau as Vassili; dreamy Dimitri Durdaine as Angelo) while his current lover, Kamel (Malik Issolah is moodily defensive of his silver-haired daddy). sulks in the remote chalet.

Like professional athletes, street hustlers have a limited shelf life. Once the tummy loses its tautness or the cheeks begin their inevitable sag, those who pay the piper either move on or demand a discount. More times than not, the answer to the proverbial question “What gives you a hard on?” is young, nubile flesh no matter what the gender. You know It’s time to retire from the sex-for-cash industry when a fellow hustler asks you to find another corner because “you’re older than my tricks.”

With Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams” metaphorically in the background, Vassili sends a client off to his in a fit of rage as he realizes his best earning days are behind him. (And I’ll be happy in my dreams/ Only in dreams/ In beautiful dreams) Then, before you cay Saved by the Belles (cross reference below) he stumbles upon a wounded angel and soon takes the buff beauty under his increasingly violent wing.

Angelo (an adopted name following the brutal bashing in Paris’ Bois de Boulogne) is a dream come true. He’s hot in bed, a versatile whore and more or less loyal when he’s not being paid to give pleasure. The pair soon become inseparable lovers and purveyors of kinky lust (Morel doesn’t shy away from showing how men of a certain age need increasingly bizarre stimulation to attain complete satisfaction: “You dirty rat,” takes on a totally different meaning). Instead of standing to deliver in the streets, they rev up the webcam and give their potential customers full-masted samples of what is to, er, come. Trouble is, many of their employers prefer just Angelo, inviting Vassili to watch TV while his boyfriend earns their fee. Chillingly, the more his services are shunned and their dreams for a different sort of future are hatched, the body count rises and—never reveal your PIN!—bank accounts are drained.

Morel is not content to merely titillate with tasteful—yet unabashed—sex and violence. Magically, he shifts the action from the French capital to Lyon where a longtime friend (Béatrice Dalle plays the role of Anna—a conjurer’s assistant—with equal amounts of charm and spunk) and her 10-year-old son (wide-eyed innocence readily exudes from Mathis Morisset as Vassili’s namesake) welcome the on-the-lam duo with open arms. Always pushing boundaries, at various times Morel sends everyone to the bath: mother and son seem largely innocent until her crusty mom (Raymonde Bronstein) questions the propriety of shampooing her grandson fully exposed; Anna, Vassili and Angelo can’t help but evoke an equally watery threesome from Bertolucci’s The Dreamers when it’s their turn in the tub (cross-reference below).

The final stop of this incredible journey is Victor’s mountain hideaway. Morel skillfully manages to have all three boys (both Vassilis and Angelo) move in for a vacation in the home of Vassili’s first trick. Truly, they have found paradise: indoor pool and Jacuzzi, beautifully appointed rooms and five-star cuisine (although it wouldn’t have been much of a surprise if Kamel had slipped some arsenic into his gourmet feasts as the wayward guests become the new light in Victor’s roaming eye).

As idyllic as everything is, Vassili and his love are prophetically and pathetically greedy for more. While the narrative sputters just slightly as the cohabitants work out their issues, the final result convincingly sums up Morel’s thesis on the lengths some of us will go to maintain the faux illusion of self-esteem—whatever the cost and however many lies it takes. What other way is there to reach paradise? JWR

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