Straight Is the New Queer in ‘Les garçons et Guillaume, à table!’

Les garçons et Guillaume, à table!download
Written and directed by Guillaume Gallienne
France, 2013 

In the final sequence of Les garçons et Guillaume, à table!, Guillaume Gallienne (who lived, wrote, directed, and acted the story) announces to his larger-than-life mother that he and his girlfriend are getting married. “To whom?” is the mother’s deadpan retort. There exist parents apparently, Gallienne’s film teaches us, in denial about their children’s heterosexuality.

Of the three queer films competing for Best Film in the 2014 César awards, Guillaume Gallienne’s poofishly histrionic Les garçons et Guillaume, à table! was perhaps something of an outsider to nubile coming-out drama La vie d’Adèle and polemical cruising thriller L’Inconnu du lac, given the underprivileged status of comedy vis-à-vis drama in festivals and award ceremonies. In a somewhat surprising twist, the César vote this year snubbed both of these Cannes darlings (save for a most promising acting award each) and instead crowned Comédie Française member Guillaume Gallienne’s first film with the Best Film, Best First Film and Best Actor prizes.

While Galienne boasts an extensive supporting role filmography, the success of his autobiographical coming- of-age parody based on his 2008 one-man show of the same name has catapulted him into a household name in France (his film was re-released in France after its César triumph) and the largely favourable critical reception was matched by unexpected box-office success (reminiscent of Intouchables surprise popularity). French audiences, it seems, warmed up to the puny self-deprecation of Gallienne as the odd one out in an haute bourgeois Parisian family.

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Ostracised and abused by his homophobic brothers, sidestepped by his macho father, bullied in his Catholic boys boarding school, and generally messed up by his cold, overbearing mother, Guillaume’s early years oscillate between a life of privilege and tribulation – the domestic servants, luxurious mansions in Morocco, boarding school in England, a string of disposable psychoanalysts are complemented by an array of phobias, depressive states and inadequacies. Guillaume’s childhood belief that he is a girl, stemming from a rare connoisseur’s delectation of all things feminine, and his artistic sensibility are unfathomable to his ‘normal’ family and thereby he is designated “sissy” (the penitence for his admiration of Sisi, the Empress of Austria). Once grown, Guillaume tries himself –unsuccessfully but hilariously – at being gay, but in the end reconciles himself to the fact that he is most at ease in the company of women, whether as observer, admirer or lover.

The success of this film – apart from the over-the-top comicality which works in large part because it is self-deprecating to the extreme and scathing to the bourgeoisie which the French love to hate – comes in a polarised socio-political context with a rift perhaps unseen in French society since the days of the Resistance-Collaboration schism: while over half of French people are in support of equal marriage rights, a virulent reactionary minority cringe at the very evocation of any discussion of ‘gender’ normativity as an imported threat to French values. It is in this context that the queer-turned-straight feel-good ending stands apart from the unrepentant queerness of La vie d’Adèle and L’Inconnu du lac – and may be the reason for its crowd-pleasing allure(again similar to the feel-good overdrive of Intouchables, French audiences apparently cannot resist an underdog made good against the odds, etc.) However, it is this twist (which is based on the protagonist’s real identity) that also lends originality to Gallienne’s enterprise as a departure from the typical coming-out, struggle and acceptance tale at the heart of more than one queer film. Besides, on account of his ‘other’ take on masculinity – kindness, good manners, respect and appreciation of women minus the bestial drooling – Guillaume is already pretty queer anyway.

 

Zornitsa Staneva

 

 

 

 

 

 

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