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Paris 05:59: Théo & Hugo | Review

The Night is Young: Ducastel & Martineau’s Procedural Queer Romance

Paris 05-59 PosterFor their seventh theatrical feature, Paris 05:59: Théo & Hugo (also known for its more thoughtful French language title, which translates to Theo and Hugo in the Same Boat), Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau offer a vibrant portrait of young love between two twentysomething men who meet in the midst of orgiastic pleasure at a bathhouse and spend the wee hours of the morning perambulating around Paris. For fans of the filmmaking duo, known for their signature 2000 title The Adventures of Felix, as well as the 2005 comedy Cote d’Azur, their latest achievement closes with a startling finality as it ironically deals with new beginnings while it may stand as their final project together, at least judging from Martineau and Ducastel’s announcement of their dissolution at the 2016 Berlin International Film Festival, where the film premiered.

In the bowels of Parisian gay sex club Impact, Theo (Geoffrey Couet) spies Hugo (Francois Nambot) in the throes of pleasure. Trying to get his attention, Theo begins to interact with another until the two of them eventually lock lips and then eyes, leading them eventually to an explosive sexual connection. Leaving the club in the early morning hours, they rent bikes and flirtatiously interact until Theo reveals they didn’t use a condom during their interaction, which ends up being a problem because Hugo, though undetectable, is HIV positive. Rushing to a nearby emergency room, Theo is guided through the protocol and treatment program for those exposed to the virus. Leaving the hospital together, the two young men attempt to rekindle the exuberant energy they were previously experiencing as Theo grapples with his new possible predicament.

What’s most notable about Paris 05:59: Théo & Hugo is the film’s outstanding opening sequence, a vibrant, sexually charged polyamorous tryst in the caved out basement of a neon lit sex club, set to a pulsating electro soundtrack as its titular characters each meet and kiss while already engaged with a sexual partner. It’s in this prolonged sequence where Ducastel and Martineau’s film feels most alive, graced with the sort of outré, unabashed energy which was once the hallmark of brazen queer cinema unashamed to let it all hang out (literally), with complex, compelling characters portrayed by appealing yet realistic looking performers.

So perhaps some of the nostalgic energy Paris 05:59: Théo & Hugo conjures makes up for an unfortunate tediousness which sets in as the couple moves past their dramatic catalyst and segues into Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy territory of two people walking, talking, separating and bonding as the sun slowly rises on the horizon. Their bond is additionally cemented by the specter which once haunted all queer narratives from the 1980s forward as the film becomes a procedural for how gay youths grapple with the possibility of acquiring HIV in a contemporary world which offers solutions for exposure, as well as the new prophylaxis PrEP Truvada. Much like Alain Guiraudie’s 2013 title Stranger by the Lake, Ducastel and Martineau show actual sex acts, and this lends the film a palpable, realistic examination of gay male desire still rare in cinema

Despite some impressive unabashedness from actors Francois Nimbot and Geoffrey Couet, the characterizations of Theo and Hugo feel rather uninspired, defined by a particular predicament and nothing else. As the actors struggle through some belabored, potentially improvised dialogue, their feelings and desires are, at best, superficially conveyed. It isn’t so much believing they will or will not end up together, but the inability for Paris 05:59: Théo & Hugo to inspire us to care either way makes this a far cry from the quiet, slight comparisons which could be made to Andrew Haigh’s 2011 Weekend.


Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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