2 min

Even bastards fall in love

For this type of grit you have to be willing to read subtitles.

Credit: Xtra files

Sixteen-year-old Beni idolizes Fogi, the lead singer in a local punk band. He chases Fogi down, writes him a love letter and becomes a roadie for the band and his idol’s lover all in the same week. Beni moves into Fogi’s grotty apartment and his whole life dissolves into his unbridled love for the charismatic musician, who personifies the “live hard, die young” motto.

When the minor rock star takes up his old heroin habit, he begins to ignore young Beni. Things turn sour and the couple progresses through periods of sadomasochism, hash dealing and hustling to support themselves.

Clearly, this is not another episode of Queer As Folk. For this type of grit you have to be willing to read subtitles. But F Est Un Salaud is worth it; the 1998 France/Switzerland coproduction was recently released on home video.

As bleak as Fogi and Beni’s descent may sound, it is an entirely engaging trip. The camera just seems to sit in the room with them as they live their lives. The sex looks real, the nudity inconsequential and the drug use pervasive. The story never appears anything but believable. This is in part because of director Marcel Gisler’s non-invasive style – but it has more to do with the talent of the actors.

Frédéric Andrau, as the careless object of Beni’s teen desires, has the looks of a rough Keanu Reeves – but with talent. We see suggestions of his self-centredness from the outset, but like Beni, we are also attracted by his smoldering sexuality and Dionysian excess. He’s reminiscent of many ’70s rock legends, mostly Jim Morisson (the story’s set in Zurich, 1973).

But the film hangs on the incredible transformations carried out by the young lead, Vincent Branchat. He is entirely convincing as the angst-ridden, gawky teenager. Beni’s body language changes subtly as he acquires the confidence, the sexual prowess and, eventually, the same heartlessness of his boyfriend. Beni is the gauge of the relationship: from adoring boy lover to mussed hair sexpot to abused pet to confident hustler and eventually to motherly care-giver. It’s a series of seamless transitions that never stop. Beni is a character in constant flux, a young pup constantly learning new tricks out of necessity. Branchat captures that growth beautifully.

The film is not without its slow points – the relationships between band mates often feel like wasted time – but the gaps seem only momentary when you’re caught up in the couple’s headlong plunge into self-destruction.