Olivier Peyon’s Lie With Me is an intoxicating mix of queer love and heartbreak. It’s a sensitively told story of two young men finding solace in each other and how those early relationships often follow us into adulthood and shape us.
Acclaimed novelist Stéphane Belcourt (Guillaume de Tonquédec) returns to his hometown to give a speech at a local distillery. He hasn’t visited in 35 years; we suspect there might be some painful memories weighing down Stéphane.
Through flashbacks, we glimpse into his youth and his budding relationship with a young man called Thomas. When Stéphane meets Thomas’ son and the two strike a friendship, Stéphane’s past quickly begins to catch up with him.
Just last week Red, White and Royal Blue premiered on Prime Video and the film was hailed as another step forward in terms of representation. Sure, there is much to love in that film, but we also found it painfully shallow. What Lie With Me does so well is craft these two fully fleshed out, authentic characters with barely any effort at all. Lie With Me is effortlessly romantic, but never overtly sugary in its treatment of first love.
Julien De Saint Jean is particularly mesmerising as the young Thomas and is more than matched by Jérémy Gillet as the young Stéphane. Their chemistry feels electric and real and their individual performances feel delicate and detailed, yet organic.
Additionally, Peyon and cinematographer Martin Rit find the kind of beauty and grace in Thomas and Stéphane’s bodies that’s usually only reserved for women in cinema. The whole film looks flawless with a rich colour palette. The French countryside comes alive under the gaze of the camera, which adoringly captures the humid summer days of youth.
Where Lie With Me stumbles, is its inevitably formulaic plot. What should be a huge, emotional revelation an hour into the film feels predictable and the moment fails to pull the rug from underneath you. Peyon has adapted the story with a heavy hand, which is a shame, because visually, Lie With Me is so well balanced.
Thomas especially suffers from shame that eats him from the inside and prevents him from publicly being with Stéphane. When the latter’s mother arrives home earlier than expected, sending the two naked boys into a state of panic, Thomas hides behind a curtain, terrified of the consequences of getting caught with another man.
While Lie With Me has been told delicately and it mostly avoids the issues of most commercial queer love stories, it’s hard to accept so many of these stories are still rooted in past shame and how it bleeds into the present. We learn very little of Stéphane, apart from the fact he stays away from alcohol, and even less about Thomas.
In fact, Thomas rarely feels real. He’s like an elusive, mysterious force that crashes into Stéphane’s life. Maybe that’s the whole point, maybe that only adds to his charisma and explains why Stéphane falls for him so hard, but Thomas seems to exist only to suffer.
Lie With Me is a beautifully told and realised adaptation, but it’s often far too understated. At the last minute, Lie With Me succumbs to disappointing sentimentality. Stéphane’s final speech feels tonally removed from the rest of the film and the film ends on a strange note.
Lie with Me – In cinemas and digital 18th August