Coming hot-on-the-heels of last year’s top box office draws, Qu’est ce qu’on a fait au Bon Dieu and La Famille Béllier which both played fast and loose with the limits of Anglosaxon bad taste, there now comes Toute Première Fois, an off-colour comedy about a gay man who comes out of the closet to reveal his heterosexuality. The basic premise runs the risk of offending so many people on so many levels but it might, in the right hands, have been insightful and funny. Guillaume Gallienne pulled it off magnificently with his award-winning Les Garcons et Guillaume à Table, which had much to say about sexual orientation and personal choice. But directors Noémie Saglio and Maxime Gouvre have gone for the easy, obvious laughs and Toute Première Fois makes uncomfortable viewing.
After living together for several years Jérémie (Poi Marmai) and his partner Antoine (Lannick Gautry) decide to get married much to the delight of Jérémie’s family and friends. A few days before they announce their wedding plans, Jérémie spends the night with a Swedish woman Adna (Adrianna Gradziel) and falls hopelessly in love. On the advice of his best friend Charles (Franck Gastambide), he continues to see Adna to see whether the attraction to her is genuine. As the wedding plans advance and Jérémie’s relationship with Antoine starts to fall apart, he is forced to confess his infidelity.
The overall tone is set early on when best friend Charles uses a football analogy to sum up Jérémie’s dilemma. “It’s as if all your life you have been a supporter of Olympique Marseille,” he explains “only to discover that in fact you prefer Paris Saint Germain.” A trite way of reducing a complex and politically contentious issue to a mundane level. It’s as if gay rights have come full circle and the only issue open for debate is now latent heterosexuality. And the argument in favour of heteroseuxality is difficult to swallow when all the non-gay characters in the film are callous and shallow with best friend Charles, the worst of them all. Is the audience meant to see his agressive, unpleasant behaviour towards women as part of his boyish charm? Add in Jérémie’s pushy mother, hyis neurotic sister and wimpish brother-in-law and his reluctance to embrace the heterosexual world is understandable.
Marmai was excellent as Henri in Lea Fazer’s underated Maestro
and he more than held his own opposite Isabelle Huppert in La Ritournelle
. But he should learn that a series of unfinished sentences and arm-waving do not make for an accomplished comic performance.
In 2013, French president Francois Hollande signed into law a controversial bill making the country the ninth in Europe to legalise gay mariage. It’s shame such a significant victory for gay rights should provide the backdrop to a film which searches for humour where there is none to be found.