In recent years, very few LGBT+ films have tried to steer away from the PG-13 subjugated gay dramas Western audiences have finally learnt to accept, thanks to commercial successes such as “Brokeback Mountain” and “Philadelphia”. Trying to imitate traditional romances, queer films have created a genre of their own. They’re considered daring because they refuse heteronormative narratives, and acceptable because their homosexual relationships never achieve full realisation. By enacting a sort of preventive self-censorship, which could paradoxically be called “gay-bashing”, queer films have lost all the power they had 20 years ago, when Western society wasn’t half as gay-friendly as it claims to be nowadays, and anything “different” would shock an audience.
While a daring Netflix show, such as the recently cancelled “Sense8”, could easily include in its episodes scenes of polygamous pansexual sex without fearing censorship, a queer film is much more likely to leave the physical aspect of the homosexual relationship to the audience’s imagination. However, this is counterproductive, as not seeing homosexual sex on screen can push people to imagine it as something entirely different from heterosexual sex, so vile it can’t be shown publicly.
Nevertheless, there is still hope. “Paris 05:59: Théo & Hugo” (“Théo et Hugo dans le même bateau”), a 2017 French film, starts in a sex club in Paris, and its first 18 minutes are a continuous flow of non-simulated homosexual sex . After the first two minutes, we lose count of the number of penises we have seen on screen, and it is obvious that getting a PG-13 rating was never taken into consideration by the directors. Although this representation of homosexual sex pleases the negative stereotypes some people have on the gay community, the film as a whole proves that gay love is in fact just the same as straight love. In fact, from the very start everything is focused on the love at first sight between the two eponymous protagonists. As Théo and Hugo deal with their problems, we see love blossoming from the most unlikely situation, and their hesitant steps are portrayed in such a realistic way that it’s easy to forget they’re not real people. In fact, I would argue that the duo’s performance is among the most genuine any screen has seen in a good while.
What “Paris 05:59” does, essentially, is that it gets the sex out of the way right at the start, so it can focus on the characters’ non-sexual relationship for the rest of the movie. The film plays out in real time: it starts at 4:27 a.m., and ends at 5:59, after exactly 92 minutes of film. This means that nothing is left to the imagination: the audience witness an hour and a half of the characters’ lives, not missing any second of it, and they are then free to imagine the characters’ future, which is not revealed by the ending. By seeing the characters from up close, they can guess how (and if) their relationship will develop, and what will become of their lives.
Thus, “Paris 05:59” goes against many tenets of mainstream cinema, and narrates the start of a homosexual relationship through innovative form and fearless content. This is what queer cinema should look like: brave, self-aware, and irreverent, but at the same time humble and – most importantly – genuine. It’s certainly not the first film of its kind and it’s unlikely that it will be the last, but hopefully more and more films will embrace this approach and make it the ethos of queer cinema.