Close to Leo

Cerisaye's Review:

Leo is the oldest in a French family of four brothers living in coastal Brittany.† Leo is gay and the announcement heís HIV-positive shatters celebration of a younger brotherís first day at work in the fatherís photography shop.† They are a very close-knit family, loving and affectionate towards each other, lots of physical demonstrativeness shown. Clearly theyíre fine with Leoís sexuality. Yet their reaction to Leoís news isnít exactly as youíd expect.†

Despite Leoís anger, misplaced desire to save youthful innocence leads the heartbroken parents not to tell their youngest son Marcel whatís wrong with his brother.† The other brothers rally round.† They all, except Leo, think Marcel is† too young to cope with such traumatic news.† However itís soon obvious all is not well.† In any case 12 year-old Marcel isnít stupid. Tension and strain show on faces and in relations with each other.† Illness and death in someone so young is difficult to confront but itís impossible to hide from the truth.† As a parent itís easy to understand their motivation.† Itís for themselves as much as Marcel.† They face losing a child so they do what they can to protect another.† With Marcel they can be a normal family as before.

Nothing is the same, so how can they pretend otherwise?† Marcel overheard the aftermath of Leoís shock announcement so he knows something is wrong.† Leo wants to be in control but struggles to cope and family canít help, though theyíre there for cuddles and togetherness, united against external threat.† Is there a lover in the background, a partner needing to be told?

Facing the rigours of a proposed treatment regime following an AIDS diagnosis, Leo goes to Paris, taking Marcel with him. Itís time for the boy to grow up and face the truth, of his brotherís sexuality and the illness that probably will kill him. Leo reads aloud to Marcel a love poem to him written by a friend called Aymeric.† The filmís only sex scene takes place after Leo meets this man.† His decision to send Marcel home reflects deepening depression.† Maybe Leo deliberately puts distance between himself and his brother, making it easier for final separation.

This is a wonderful film. Grief is subtle without the melodrama thatíd be Hollywoodís knee jerk response; the mother struggles to dress, with her friendís help putting on a pair of boots. The boy playing Marcel is simply superb.† Leo, too, is compelling in a thoughtful script that challenges expectations.† A convincing portrait of a loving family plunged into crisis, stricken with pain and hurt yet managing to hold together for each other.† Parental and brotherly love shine bright in a film that finds a positive message in devastating circumstances. Highly recommended.† French with English subtitles.

Ladymol's Review:

Donít watch this film for light entertainment, but do watch it.† This must be one of the most moving films about AIDS and its impact on families that Iíve seen, and thatís not because itís full of smultch and over-blown sentiment. Itís not. I shudder to think what Hollywood would have turned this movie into. As it is, itís a beautifully shot, beautifully acted French movie about one of four brothers who has AIDS. There are no speeches, thereís no real plot, thereís certainly no polemic about AIDS. Itís about real people, and itís all the more moving for that.

The beauty of this film is that the impact of the disease is seen through the eyes of 12 year old Marcel. Marcel has three older brothers, Leo, the oldest, has AIDS. The rest of the family decide not to tell Marcel, so as not to upset him. However, this decision leads to an almost unbearable tension, as Marcel knows, (as children always do) that something is terribly wrong.

This film does has a sad ending, and I donít think Iím giving away too much of the plot to tell you thatóthis is a film about AIDS, after all, but what I particularly liked about it is that itís not complete. These arenít people whoíve come terms with whatís happened; it hasnít made them better people. There is no rhyme or reason to any of it.†

Oddly, for a gay movie, the character I identified with most was the mother. Sheís wonderfully underplayed, so when she does react, itís all the more shocking.† At the end, thereís a wonderful moment when her best friend is helping her dress. Nothing is said, again, no Hollywood speeches in this film, but your heart is breaking watching her.

This is another great ďgayĒ French movie, along with Presque Rein. Why canít we make movies as subtle as these?

Do watch this film if youíre feeling brave. Highly recommended.

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