Guillaume Gallienne demonstrates a spectacular talent for multi-tasking by writing, directing and taking the two major leads in Les Garçons et Guillaume à Table – a gentle comedy based on Gallienne’s autographical one-man stage show which won the Director’s Fortnight best film prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. As a child, Gallienne’s mother would call the children to the table by saying “Boys, and Guillaume, dinner’s ready” unconsciously singling him out at an early age as being different from his two brothers. But this is no ordinary ‘coming out’ tale. Gallienne astutely dissects the question of identity and the film puts its own twist on the nature v nurture debate.
We meet Guillaume as he prepares to walk on stage at the beginning of his one-man show and the story is told in a series of flashbacks. His mother is clearly the most important influence in his life. She is a chain-smoking, angry, rather vulgar woman who Guillaume desperately wants to imitate and impress. There is no room for doubt as to how closely he identifies with his mother as he plays her himself in one of the most credible drag performances seen on the big screen. With a disapproving father, two testosterone-fuelled brothers and a coolly distant mother, the sensitive, artistic Guillaume retreats into a make-believe world of Austrian princesses and French aristocrats. This, coupled with a lack of interest in sport, leads everyone to conclude that young Guillaume is gay. It is only by following the down-to-earth advice of a favourite aunt – “if you sleep with a woman you’re heterosexual, if you sleep with a man, you’re homosexual” – that Guillaume discovers his true sexual orientation.
As a member of the prestigious Comedie Française, Gallienne already has the hallmark of a fine actor and he uses his skills to cast a sympathetic, but not uncritical, eye over his younger self. Dubbed by some as a ‘Gallic Woody Allen’, he displays the same ability for mining self-obsession and self-deprecation for comedy as the veteran American director. Although Gallienne makes more use of slapstick and visual comedy than Allen has of late.
Not all of the comic scenes display great originality. Do we need to be reminded that the British are eccentric and drink a lot of tea, the Spanish are passionate about Flamenco and fiestas or the Germans have an unhealthy interest in the workings of the digestive system? But these lapses are rare and Gallienne more than makes up for them with his smart observational humour and impeccable comic timing.
All credit to Gallienne, Les Garçons is not just an amusing film chronicling a journey of self-discovery. It is also an homage to women – his mother, his aunts, his female friends – with all their faults and Guillaume’s eventual discovery of his true sexuality is both hugely funny and deeply moving. In French cinemas: 20/11/2013
DVD subtitled in English