VOD film review: Theo and Hugo
Matthew Turner | On 25, Sep 2016
Directors: Olivier Ducastel, Jacques Martineau
Cast: Geoffrey Couët, François Nambot
Watch Theo and Hugo online in the UK: Curzon Home Cinema / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play
Originally titled Paris 5: 59, or Theo and Hugo dans la meme bateau (meaning “in the same boat”), this engaging French romance from co-directors Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau has a great deal in common with films like Andrew Haigh’s Weekend and Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise, while also following in the tradition of hardcore-sex-featuring arthouse movies, such as John Cameron Mitchell’s Shortbus and Alain Guiraudie’s Stranger By The Lake. Consequently, the film’s bold and explicit opening sequence may prove too hard to swallow for some audiences, but those who stick with it will find ample reward in the touching and well-observed romance that forms the majority of the film.
Unfolding in what passes for real time, the film begins in the depths of a Paris sex club, where curly-haired, sensitive Theo (Geoffrey Couet) is instantly attracted to dark-haired, handsome Hugo (Francois Nambot, looking a bit like a young Rupert Everett). There follows an explicit 20-minute sex scene-slash-orgy-sequence, as the pair make love surrounded by other cavorting couples in various states of congress. After their exertions, the pair collect their clothes from the front desk and spill out onto the Paris streets at around 4.47am, picking up a pair of Boris bikes (or the French equivalent thereof) to continue the evening in each other’s company.
Events quickly take a turn when a horrified Hugo (who is HIV positive) learns that Theo didn’t use protection during their encounter, and, after breaking the news of his diagnosis to an understandably shocked Theo, he accompanies him to the hospital for an emergency appointment. After attending the clinic together, the two men head back to the streets where they find themselves bonding over the experience, despite Theo feeling a confusing mixture of emotions.
For a romantic two-hander to work, the connection between the two leads has to be extremely convincing and so it proves with Couet and Nambot, who have palpable chemistry right from their first encounter – their first kiss is an early high-point. Both actors create an intriguing tension, as each of them reveals more of their personality and you begin to wonder just how compatible they are.
Ducastel and Martineau make strong use of their city locations, creating a 5am atmosphere that feels entirely realistic (that realism is heightened still further when the pair stop off at that universal leveller, the kebab shop). The real-time aspect (complete with frequent onscreen reminders of the time) allows for some nicely-staged long takes as the men cycle through the streets together.
As for the opening, the sex is handled well and certainly makes for an original meet-cute, but there is an odd disconnect between that and the rest of the film, not least because we’re privy to every word the pair say to each other in the next 80 minutes and the conversation never once touches on the club scene (although there is an effective moment where Theo has mental flashes of all the other people he has presumably slept with there). The script is on solid ground when it comes to Theo and Hugo making awkward conversation, but it stumbles a bit when they meet other characters and it makes some jarring attempts to shoe-horn in various other social issues.