Not every local phenomenon can - or even will - translate abroad, but by virtue of its unusual take on a universal subject, acclaimed French actor Guillaume Gallienne's film may well hit the mark outside France, where it became a huge commercial hit and made a killing at the local César awards ceremony. This is because Les garçons et Guillaume, à table! deals, often very funnily, with the pains of growing up and accepting yourself as you grow out of adolescence and into adult life. It's a story of triumph over adversity, of finding your own voice and sticking to it against thick and thin - and it's also a very personal tale for Mr. Gallienne, who is essentially staging his own coming of age in this adaptation of his deliriously successful one-man-show that played to packed houses in Paris.
Everybody in the Gallienne family is convinced Guillaume is gay from a very young age, when in fact he's just a confused boy more in touch with his feminine side than most everyone else, compounded by an unending love and admiration for his forceful mother - making this not so much a gay coming-out story as a straight coming-out story (in fairness, it's the sort of thing only a French filmmaker would even try to film and get away with). That Les garçons et Guillaume, à table! has its origins in a stage performance is something that Mr. Gallienne, also starring, directing and scripting, smartly decides to show from the beginning (with a long steadycam tracking shot as he crosses the warren of backstage rooms and corridors to get to the stage where he begins unraveling his tale).
But where, on stage, the actor was on his own and conjured up the characters from thin air, on screen it's a different thing, with the story opening out to let other actors perform the other roles in true-to-life settings, exception made to the mother who is a force of nature (Mr. Gallienne plays both her and his own younger self through the magic of digital trickery). And suddenly the storytelling aspect that's good about the premise, an actor revealing his true personality through performance and narration, becomes an afterthought. Though elegantly shot and with a few inspired plot devices, the film does resolve itself into a pacy but predictable revue of (often funny) comedy sketches that milk the drag aspect for all it's worth, with the stage performance device surfacing irregularly as a transition between episodes.
More interestingly (if not more comfortably), it's also a film that upends political correctness with a genuinely disarming sense of humour, revealing just how much of the coming-out queer cinema tropes have been influenced by traditional coming-of-age tales; whether Mr. Gallienne wants to reclaim them wittingly or that is just a side effect of his retelling of his own peculiar experience is up to the individual viewer. What there can be no doubt about is the excellence of the actor's performance at the centre of Les garçons et Guillaume, à table!, with Mr. Gallienne perfectly in control of tone and precisely modulating his multiple performances; while this is not just filmed theatre, there's a sense it's never quite a fully fledged film either.
LES GARÇONS ET GUILLAUME, À TABLE!
France, Belgium 2013
Cast Guillaume Gallienne, André Marcon, Françoise Fabian, Nanou Garcia, Diane Kruger, Reda Kateb
Director Mr. Gallienne; screenwriters Mr. Gallienne with Claude Mathieu and Nicolas Vassiliev; based on the stage play by Mr. Gallienne, Les garçons et Guillaume, à table!; cinematographer Glynn Speckaert (colour, widescreen); composer Marie-Jeanne Séréro; designer Sylvie Olivé; costumes Olivier Beriot; make-up Dominique Colladant; editor Valérie Deseine; producers Édouard Weil, Cyril Colbeau-Justin and Jean-Baptiste Dupont; production companies LGM Films, Rectangle Productions, Don't Be Shy Productions, Gaumont and France 3 Cinéma in co-production with Nexus Factory and uFilms
Screened June 9th 2014 (DVD)