‘Paris 05:59: Theo & Hugo’
Directors: Olivier Ducastel, Jacques Martineau
Stars: Geoffrey Couet, Francois Nambot
3 (out of 5) Globes
“Paris 05:59: Theo & Hugo” is the rare “Before Sunrise” knockoff that frontloads the stumping. And how: Kicking off with bold, loud Gaspar Noe titles, it proceeds to an orgy that out-Noes Noe (while staying 100 percent sex-positive). For 20 minutes, we descend into the basement of a gay sex club, where bodies bathed in red and blue lights — and sometimes looking like Blue Man Group members, frankly — canoodle and horse around and pair off to the relentless thump of club music. Like the men, filmmakers Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau take their time picking their two heroes. Till then, they sample. The camera acts like one of the patrons: It stays on one guy for a while, changes its mind, picks up another, gets distracted by someone else, etc. Think of it as a Robert Altman stag film.
Finally, it decides on our heroes: curly-headed Theo (Geoffrey Couet) and wavy-haired Hugo (Francois Nambot). When they finally lock eyes, Ducastel and Martineau bathe them in white light, then herald their hook-up by depositing them onto a spinning table, making them the center of an orbit of grinding randos.
It’s a helluva way to start a movie; it’s essentially its own short film. The remaining 76 minutes couldn’t help but feel like a comedown, yet “Paris 05:59” quickly finds a new footing. Theo and Hugo didn’t come together, but they do leave together, strutting or rent-a-biking through deserted streets, OK with mostly gabbing about what they just did to each other. They’re not sparkling conversationalists, like Celine and Jesse in the “Before” movies, nor do they discuss race or sexuality like the the dynamic duos of “Medicine for Melancholy” or “Weekend.”
That’s fine, because Ducastel and Martineau give them something to do. Theo lets slip that he failed to follow safe-sex procedures; Hugo, meanwhile, is HIV positive. One of the film’s other hooks is that it’s told in real-time, meaning a trip to an all-night medical clinic eats up the middle section. We learn the details of STD treatment, and perhaps marvel at French health care that’s not only free but supplied by non-judgmental staffers.
There are plenty of other distractions: a chat with a Syrian kebab peddler; a sit-down with an aging Metro rider who blurts out confessions like a geyser. But they aren’t mere distractions — not only there because, left to their own devices, Theo and Hugo have little to say or do. These scenes help elevate a film that could be stock, giving a nervous tension to the usual talking and kissing and fighting and making up and planning out a future that could still have an expiration date. Like them, you spend the film wondering if this is a standard hook-up or something special. And that at least makes “Paris 05:59” special.