“I’m HIV positive,” is a phrase that, for a very long time, people feared without much understanding. Over the years, humanity has finally figured out that HIV is treatable and its transmission preventable. The recent Paris 05:59 (Theo et Hugo dans le meme bateau) depicts the virus in a less glaringly awful way.
The film feels like two very different works brought together. It is split into two portions: the first, a semi-hardcore porn film that lasts eighteen minutes. And the second, a Before Sunrise-style feature that rollercoasters through emotions and tackles a subject that is inherently tied to the queer lifestyle.
Filmmakers Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau place the viewer directly in the basement of a sex club in Paris at 4:27 a.m. This is the place where their two leads, Theo (Geoffrey Couet) and Hugo (François Nambot), meet. The two lock eyes and lips while penetrating two men beneath them.
The scene plays out as an entrancement. It's artistry and arousing in content. A sequence this long and graphic may be a deterrent for some viewers, though the unprotected sex at its climax results in a pivotal plot point. Hugo is HIV positive and Theo didn’t use a condom when he topped him.
From that moment, the film becomes a down-to-earth romance about two individuals whose first interaction just happened to be at a sex club. Ducastel and Martineau are deliberate in the way they frame most of the film in real time, occasionally allowing a bright time-stamp to pierce through the night sky.
The script slides comfortably between romantic sequences and heavy discussions about HIV. With the former, the viewer gets exactly the kind of playfulness that one would expect from a couple of guys on their first date. In these scenes, they’re bathed in soft colors and natural lights from Paris at night, incomparable to the harshness of the seedy club they met in.
The naturalism and chemistry of Couet and Nambot is one of the film’s best features. Even when they have to deliver an awkward line (though subtitles may be to blame for some of the sillier translations), the two bounce off each other much like Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke in Richard Linklater's Before trilogy. Many of their interactions rely on quiet moments and looks that say more than words ever can.
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The loveliness of a first date is contrasted shockingly well by the sterility of the hospital that the two reside in for a good portion of the film’s 97-minutes. Paris 05:59 guides the audience through what an emergency treatment following unprotected sex would look like. Yet, it never feels purposely educational.
Amidst shifting tones, it really makes the viewer believe that Theo and Hugo might just be a match made in heaven — even though they met while deep inside two different men.
Showing at the Miami Beach Cinematheque on Friday, April 29, at 9 p.m., as part of the MiFo Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. Tickets are $13. Visit mifofilm.com.