• French Competition



Gaël Lépingle

Gaël Lépingle
We were already familiar with Gaël Lépingle’s taste for provincial small towns, and with his precise, insistent, and often generous interest in their inhabitants and their lust for adventures, as shown in his work, from Julien (FID 2010) to Seuls les pirates (FID 2018). Provincial towns are shown here through the prism of the journey of boys who like boys, narrated by Gaël Lépingle like three tales set in three different places, three slices of life involving choices. In each of these tales, the director portrays in delicate touches various ways of living as a homosexual, in places where it is possible, or sometimes unthinkable, but always steering clear of the usual drama and clichés of the genre. In the opening scene, a young man seems to be dreaming of a reality different from the business he is about to take over and the married life that goes with it; he is drawn to the spicy life of a queer vaudeville troupe performing in his village. Then we follow the wanders of a teenager, the unlikely experience of his slender figure walking the streets of his village. Finally, we catch a glimpse of the fetishist passion of a respectable teacher, before he is sent back to his path of renunciation. These three portraits end up composing a fresco. Gaël Lépingle becomes the cartographer of uncharted areas of desire, in landscapes that are devoid of qualities and sharpness, but filled with the dreadful banality of preordained destinies. So many paths to take and decisions to make for these provincial boys. Lépingle subtly delineates dead ends and openings, and lingers on the in-between: in between words and bodies, in between desire and bleak life, in between bodies and landscapes, searching for the right distance between beings. With dressing-up and its possibilities as a secret formula that connects them all. (Nicolas Feodoroff)

Interview with Gaël Lépingle

In Smalltown Boys, we see your favourite themes cropping up again, but this is the first time the relationship with homosexuality and sexuality is addressed so directly. What was your project?

There’s the one who stays, the one who leaves and the one who’s just passing through – I wanted to return to the issue of “inhabiting”, but this time with regard to gender or sexuality. We keep hearing “what counts isn’t that it goes on between two boys, but the truth of the feelings”. As though it wasn’t determined by social and historical factors… Nevertheless, even if they’re changing, the representations of the gay community as a hip, urban universe often act as a fence (connivance, self-regarding) – with the risk of naturalism if one wants to be credible, plausible, authentic, etc. For me, the solution was, on the contrary, to detach the characters from any community links, to portray them in a void, in their solitude. The film invents a nexus for them (the taste for dressing up and cross-dressing), but as an experiment, to see what it produces tangibly – whether it does something, whether it creates something unique or shared. The triptych was a solution to break from the universality of the single story, to establish relativities.

How did this triptych develop during the writing process with Michaël Dacheux?

A few years ago, I was struck by a beautiful film, En attendant les hirondelles by Karim Moussaoui. I saw in it what I like in other triptychs such as Kelly Reichardt’s Certain Women or Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy, in that that the short format echoes the short story, an imagination marked by literature, awakening long-lost emotions, teenage readings, where the novel resides in the miniature – for example Maupassant, and although the reference is bold, it’s hard not to mention Le Plaisir (House of Pleasure) by Max Ophüls, a seminal film. Bizarrely, I don’t get this emotion with a single short film; I need a construction that puts the narratives into perspective like turning a page. With Michaël, we tried to connect the narrative of the three parts, but we soon saw that there wasn’t any point. The connection makes itself, that’s the principle of a collection. The only exception is when Jonas’ character returns, but he’s so different (in his looks and behaviour) that we see what we want to see… someone else who looks like him or the same person who’s changed.

What’s the difference in narrative treatment for each part?

The first part is still similar to Atomic Summer, my previous film, with a kind of authoritative fiction. I like that it immediately rubs up against something cruder: in the second part there was no script, just a series of sequences based on the conviction that filming a boy crossing a village in high heels is enough to make a movie. We shot these two parts in quick succession, like two sides of the same coin. It’s the third part that was really new for me, with its quest for equilibrium, where the situations take precedence over the narrative, without intentionality, whilst still being precisely written. That was a leap into the unknown. Luckily, the crew was really united, including the main actor, Léo Pochat, who helped us with the script. He’s worked in theatre and done stage directing, so it was invaluable support.

Why did you choose to film in the provinces and these three small towns in the Aube and Loiret departments?

Their proximity to Paris lent a certain anonymity. The provinces have a kind of lost identity. Nothing is typical, everything looks the same. But as soon as you move away from Paris, it’s different, in Brittany, in Provence, there are particularities, local claims and pride and so on. I know the Aube and Loiret well, I shot my two previous films there. I like the impression of time standing still there, and the word “provincial” is so apt, with its outdated, sort of dusty connotations, but it’s become politically incorrect – now we have to say regions or territories so as not to offend anyone.

How did you put together this new troupe of actors with Léo Pochat, Yves-Batek Mendy, Édouard Prévot and Serge Renko?

I knew Renko through his roles in Rohmer’s films, particularly Triple Agent. The others are three diffracted fragments of youth. Yves-Batek’s troubled sweetness is what I was looking for to evoke the lives of gays living in remote areas where they struggle to be accepted. That certain minority determinants have now been normalised (at least on the face of it) means a black gay character can access a classic type of narrative – village adultery or Bovarysme – that until now they couldn’t. Édouard is the most modern, with an asserted singularity that has to do with the dream, the self-invention. Léo’s the opposite, it’s a physique we don’t see anymore, very 1980s, smooth and archetypal, with this superficial aspect beneath which we can imagine more complicated mysteries…

What significance do you give the Parisian epilogue in song with Jérôme Marin?

It’s a community that’s reunited at last. Jérôme set up an incredible place in Paris, a cabaret that brings together all kinds of eccentric talents. And it’s a way of completing the circle, meeting up again with the original troupe, but this time the documentary version. The three main characters were split up into their frames – each part was shot in a different format – as though in a box, with an impermeable barrier isolating them. When we get to the scope at the end, I don’t think of it as a box anymore, but, on the contrary, a broadening, an opening up to the world.

Interview by Olivier Pierre

  • French Competition

Technical sheet

France / 2022 / Color / 82’

Original version : french
Subtitles : english
Script : Gaël Lépingle, Michaël Dacheux.
Photography : Dorian Lebeau, Vianney Lambert
Editing : Guillaume Lillo
Music : Arthur Gillette.
Sound : Jérôme Petit
With : Léo Pochat, Yves-Batek Mendy, Edouard Prévot, Serge Renko
Production : Antoine Delahousse et Thomas Jaeger (Haiku Films)
Distribution : Gaël Teicher (La Traverse)
Filmography : L’Été nucléaire, 2020
Seuls les pirates, 2018
Une jolie vallée, 2015
La Nuit tombée, 2014
Julien, 2010
Guy Gilles et le temps désaccordé, 2008
Guy Gilles, photographies du temps d’avant, 2007
La Prisonnière du Pont-aux-Dions, 2006