By Alan Scherstuhl
By Amy Nicholson
By Charles Taylor
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Brian Feinzimer
By CAROLINA DEL BUSTO
By AMY NICHOLSON
By Amy Nicholson
You know that Come Undone is going to be crappy seconds into the opening credits. As white titles slowly flutter over a black background, accompanied by extremely slow, extremely pained acoustic guitar pickings, a singer who sounds like a more suicidal Aimee Mann (if that's possible) starts moaning lines about cold nights and long days and—get this—keeping a lock and key on love, taking it out only to make sure it's dead.
It's a warning, really: leave the theater and ask for your money back now because in another 90 minutes, you'll want to kill either yourself or the date who dragged you to this rancid French art-house merde.
Maybe I've just seen too many gay-themed films that had a brain and a heart and were well-acted and funny and thought-provoking and entertaining, films directed by people who cared about the little things like "plot" and "story" and "keeping the audience from stuffing Milk Duds up their noses just to keep from falling asleep." But Come Undone, lensed by Sébastien Lifshitz (a last name with at least four successive letters that perfectly describe his movie), isn't one of those.
The film begins with shots of a sad, bored-looking young guy walking through crowded city streets. He is 18-year-old Mathieu (Jérémie Elkaïm), and as we see just a few scenes later, Mathieu loves stroking his uncut, throbbing manmeat (there are closeups of this, too. Have you ever noticed how much uncircumcised cock looks like a bank robber wearing a pantyhose mask? Note to Matty: Put that sausage back in its casing!). Mathieu is also a closet-case queer, which we find out when he gets cruised at the beach by an equally youngish lad named Cédric (Stéphane Rideau). Eyes meet; neither pair looks immediately away.
It's essentially a coming-of-age tale that, minus a few of the details, is like every one we've seen before—and lived, for that matter—gay or straight. There are hoary clichés you'd have expected to see in gay cinema a quarter century ago: Mathieu has tried to kill himself, we learn, presumably because he can't live with the shame of his sexuality; Cédric used to screw for cash—not much of a surprise, though Lifshitz treats it to the cinematic equivalent of underscoring, italics and exclamation points; and naturally, there are Mathieu's overbearing, nosy female relatives, each of whom knows more about Mathieu's proclivities than Mathieu himself.
The whole tension in the film seems to be whether Mathieu will finally come out to his mother, and by the time he does, you just don't care. The device is being used more creatively in such mainstream cable fare as Queer As Folk and Six Feet Under. Worse than what passes for plot, though, is the film's Ice Age pacing. It is quintessentially slow, if by "slow," you mean what most Americans mean when they say they won't see a French film: the pointless, 15-second-long, Meryl-Streep-in-The-French-Lieutenant's-Woman shots of characters staring at the ground, looking morose, not doing a damned thing to advance the story. Have not our French brothers heard of editing?Come Undone is worth your time if you're into gratuitous trying to pass itself off as fresh. During their fucking-in-the-sand scene, Cédric (the huskier, more confident one) plays bottom to quiet, passive Mathieu's top—who would've guessed? When Mathieu finds a dead sparrow, he burns off the bird's pecker with his lit cigarette, which I suppose is, you know, metaphoric.
Slow and predictable, Come Undone really comes undone when Lifshitz inexplicably slices his film in such a way that things are intentionally left out of sync. Near film's end, Mathieu says he's left Cédric; in a subsequent scene, he announces he's moving in with Cédric; and then, suddenly, he's broken it off again. The audience is left to fill in the holes themselves. Lifshitz might call that "art," but the cuts are meaningless, suggestive of nothing in a relationship except, perhaps, confusion. And an artist's ego.
And nobody ever smiles in this movie, not even when they're boning or jerking off or touching each other's naughty bits. It is boring, lifeless and joyless. My boyfriend nodded off halfway through the thing—and we're the target market. Come Undone makes gay relationships about as arousing and attractive as the idea of suckling Dick Cheney's withered cucumber.
Come Undone (Presque Rien) was directed by Sébastien Lifshitz; written by Lifshitz and Stéphane Bouquet; and stars Jérémie Elkaïm and Stéphane Rideau. Now playing at Edwards University, Irvine.
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