I have a little joke I like to tell straight people: Gay dates begin with sex, and if that goes well, you move on to dinner.
Chalk it up to gay men generally being upfront about their sexual needs. I think we learn pretty early on how crucial sex is to a relationship, so we often lead with that. Getting to know each other is something we reserve for those with whom we have good sexual chemistry.
Filmmakers Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau take that premise and let it play out in real time. Our two titular characters meet at a sex club, and let’s just say they really hit it off. The film actually opens on an orgy that plays out for 18 minutes. The actors’ fully nude bodies are displayed and engage in what doesn’t look like simulated sex. In one sequence, the two leads sure aren’t pretending.
Théo (Geoffrey Couët) first eyes Hugo (François Nambot) from across the cramped dungeon of undulating nakedness, transfixed as he watches Hugo have sex with another man. Théo takes matters into his own hands, just how one might get someone’s attention on a dance floor—he grabs a man at random and starts having sex with him, as a way of positioning himself closer to Hugo. Hugo gets turned on by this, and he and Théo begin to carry on together. After they climax, they go upstairs to retrieve their clothes.
It’s now past 4 am, meaning there aren’t a whole lot of options for these two to do besides stroll around and talk. Hugo is the more carpe diem of the two, having moved to the city from a small town and carved a life for himself—he has quite a bit of drama in his backstory. Théo, a born and raised Parisian, is a little more apprehensive and reserved. First-date situations are always packed with tension; say the wrong thing or use the wrong inflection and you’re done, and that’s pretty much what happens throughout. These two want to like each other, but they’re both ready to leave the other in the dust anytime one of them puts his foot in his mouth.
Paris 05:59: Théo & Hugo is basically the gay version of Richard Linklater’s Before Sunset, although it comes nowhere near to matching the philosophical monologues that Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke breathlessly performed. However, we already have a gay equivalent of Before Sunset. It is impossible to watch Paris without comparing it to Andrew Haigh’s dynamic 2011 film Weekend, which is also about two gay men getting to know each other after an initial tryst.
The problem with the newer film is actually Théo and Hugo. Their journey takes place in the waking hours of the morning; the dark Paris streets are largely absent of any other characters. That means the actors have a lot of responsibility on their shoulders. We’re asked to believe Théo and Hugo find each other irresistible, but there just isn’t much heat between them in their non-orgy scenes or enough to the characters for the audience to latch onto. Both men are amicable, but neither are very memorable. You’d think a film that opens with an 18-minute orgy scene would have some of the joy that can be had with sex, an afterglow. But no, Paris 05:59: Théo & Hugo ultimately is a joyless affair.
Written and Directed by Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau
Released by Wolfe Releasing
France. 97 min. Not rated
With Geoffrey Couët, François Nambot, Mario Fanfani, Bastien Gabriel, and Miguel Ferreira