Beginning in 1981, amidst the backdrop of the French presidential elections (Mitterrand wins!), this three-part series looks long and hard at 17-year-old Victor’s (Samuel Theis gives a courageous and sensitive performance) baptism by familial fire into the world of homosexual love.
In Part I, Victor is unknowingly caught with his pants down by his dad (Frédéric Pierrot, playing Charles is readily as cold as an astonished, unthinking parent can be—also site manager of the construction project that employs both of them) while co-worker Selim (an Arab and son of the foreman, no less—yikes!) does what comes entirely naturally to them both. Before you can say, “shame on me” Selim is fired for an errant van accident, adding racial strife into the mix; but—make no doubt—the love that dare not speak its name was the real, unmentioned cause for the dismissal.
Fortunately (in terms of window dressing), Victor has a beard in the comely shape of Aurélie (stoically rendered by Sophie Quinton). The faraway looks from both naked lovers while trying to have fulfilling sex, is one of this episode’s greatest achievements.
Abandoned by Selim, phone-bullied by school “chums”, Victor (after flirting with a one-night stand with a razor blade) opts to visit “the park”. Here he meets and beds the much older Serge (Stanislas Nordey, clearly comfortable in his character’s lavender skin).
Once that liaison is discovered (but weakly: Charles doesn’t seem the type to do the family’s laundry…) the inevitable showdowns occur: Charles and Serge, Serge and Victor, coming-out Victor and his parents (including a perplexed but supportive Mom—Emmanuelle Bercot, whose considerable skills seem underused).
Of course, Mitterrand wins the day, ushering in—as we’d all hoped—a more sympathetic, liberal approach to the LGBTQ community of the day.
If only the blood tests would have been equally as liberating…
Episode 2 (18 years later, beginning in 1999), delves into living with HIV/AIDS, adoption by homosexuals (not illegal, but applications always refused…) and, finally, the approval of civil union legislation.
Miraculously, Victor has become a bona fide architect and has been living with the ailing Serge for almost two decades. Theirs is an “open relationship” where Victor beds the willing (seemingly no shortage) but, happily, insists on condoms. Selim returns as a married man with children but an unexpected meeting with his one-time paramour rekindles their lust.
Charles has begrudgingly accepted his son’s predilection, but everything (and almost everyone) run amuck with Victor’s unstoppable desire to become a dad. It seems the only way forward is to pretend to be straight, even if alone (“I haven’t found the right one [woman] yet.”).
Not surprisingly, with both Charles and Victor agreeing to lie, the experienced social worker readily sees through them both.
The pace is much slower than Episode 1 (too many speeches, not enough “show don’t tell”) and the few dollops of sex are bereft of carnal heat. Newcomer—to the series—Farah (Selim’s wife), Loubna Abidar coolly nails her “deal with the devil” scene.
Sadly, Episode 3 of this multi-generational tale of the adoption of gay-positive legislation in France (culminating in the May 17, 2013 passage of the same-sex marriage bill), further reveals the folly of writing scripts around legal milestones instead of the characters that we have come to care about.
Baby Diego (handsomely portrayed by Julien Lopez) has grown up with his two dads, only to be mocked and bullied by his shallow peers. Noémie (done up proud by Rebecca Marder)—a first year law student with an intolerant brother—soon falls for the long-locked soccer devotee only to become an unintended drug victim (that entire sequence adds more mud than clarity to the narrative).
Naturally, inevitably, Serge’s condition weakens to the point of readiness for “the other side.” Charles’ conversion to sage confidante (for Diego) instead of scolding parent (assumedly after the death of his wife) also rings false.
Victor seems like the proverbial ping pong ball, bouncing between a different level of love with Serge, tough love relationship with Diego and “why not now?” love with Serge’s physiotherapist, Pio.
After all has been said, done and buried, Phillipe Faucon’s vision and intent are laudable, but do not quite live up to the potential of round 1. JWR