Yet again the French pull off a sophisticated, beautifully made movie with superb acting as well as a complex and credible plot. Although the director says that this isn’t a film about heterosexuality or homosexuality but one about desire, I would say that this has one of the strongest gay themes we’ve seen so far.
The title is somewhat misleading. This isn’t a school in the English sense of the word, but perhaps more in the American sense: it’s a university, and these men certainly aren’t schoolboys as is implied in some reviews, they are quite mature men.
Paul and Louis-Arnault find themselves flatmates in an exclusive university specialising in management and business: turning out the future kings of industry. Worlds apart, they become firm friends, much to the chargrin of Paul’s girlfriend who is jealous of Paul’s intense feelings for Arnault.
Unbeknownst to his friends, Paul has begun an affair with Melic, a young Arab worker. This is a beautifully realised love affair, starting with a first disastrous kiss and progressing to wonderfully photographed erotic scenes. Merci is genuinely in love with Paul, but Paul can’t, or won’t, shake his feelings for Arnault.
The film is “typically” French in many ways: lots of full-frontal nudity and talking. I was annoyed, yet again, by the heterosexual sex being more graphic than the gay sex, but given that these gay scenes were the first for both actors, it’s amazing that they make them as real as they do.
There’s a wonderful soundtrack on the movie, and the film has a professional slickness that is really refreshing after some of the dogs we’ve suffered through recently.
I did find it a bit wordy, but then I was desperately trying to read the subtitles as well as absorb the action on screen. I’m not sure the translations caught many of the nuances of the dialogue because I was never too sure what was motivating the characters and my assumptions didn’t match with what the director claimed on the extra features.
All that aside, this would certainly be up in my top five gay movies. The romance between Paul and Merci is so believable that their eyes seem to glow with affection for each other. Quite a feat. Well worth watching.
If I've learned anything from all the gay themed books & movies, it's the meaninglessness of labels when it comes to sexuality. Desire has no gender. And it pays no heed to background or skin colour. This film uses drama to make political statements about sexuality, class and race. It largely succeeds without becoming too heavy handed by focusing on love & sex and relationships, leaving the audience to draw conclusions.
It’s pretty steamy, with highly erotic sex scenes, gay and straight, also delightful locker room shower shots and plenty of male full frontal nudity. As you’d expect from the French.
Paul arrives in Paris to share a student flat, on the fast track to success at an elite Business School, following his father’s footsteps, but he’s uneasy. More than not having the right clothes for snobby Paris society or an investment portfolio. Paul would rather study literature than finance & management. Agnés his girlfriend is an Arts major involved in human rights. He’s uncomfortable with the gap between his privileged background and the majority struggling to survive. When he intervenes in a dispute between a racist foreman and beautiful young Arab labourer, Mélic, there’s instant attraction, and they arrange to meet.
Mélic sees that Paul isn’t like the other students, though uptight and repressed in the middle class way. Mélic is sexy and outgoing, But Paul runs away from a first kiss, confused by his feelings. Yet we’ve already seen how he’s attracted to athletically handsome flatmate Louis-Arnault.
So, unhappy with his studies and struggling with his desire, Paul discovers that the harsh university of life has more to teach him. Paul’s longing is beautifully handled in scenes where he goes through Louis’ belongings, touches his pillow and takes some dirty underwear from a closet. Or watching him with the team in the showers after practice, afraid to look but unable not to.
Paul doesn’t seem to get that Louis is flirting or playing a game. Things begin to heat up when Agnés astutely realises what’s going on. Paul is emotionally distant and their lovemaking lacks fire. He only comes alive when they’re with Louis-Arnault (or in his bed in the empty flat). She makes a deal with Paul: victory to the one who seduces Louis first.
It’s Mélic who frees Paul, who’s too scared what Louis will think of him to tell him how he feels. Mélic has Paul sussed, that it's Louis he wants and he's just practising, using him. But he loves Paul so he takes what he can get. While both Agnés and Louis play with Paul, testing him to see how far he’ll go. People like him supposed to take what they want, predatory like the multinational corporations they study in class.
Will Paul finally realise Mélic is the other half needed to make him whole? That Louis-Arnault is never going to jeopardise his future by loving another man, no matter how he really feels. Paul must choose: a life of wealth and privilege, conforming to expectations and society’s prejudices, like Louis, or happiness and true love with Mélic, money or passion.
This is an enjoyable film, though very French and talky, and rather runs out of steam in places as a result. I watched it twice to fully understand what was going on. It looks good too, with convincing performances from the young cast. Gay romance, explicit sex and a tangle of relationships provide plenty of entertainment to sugar political points. And the ending felt right. Very highly recommended.
Buy Grande Ecole (REGION 1) (NTSC) from Amazon