“Paris 5:59: Théo & Hugo” by gay filmmakers Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau is a remarkable romance. The film opens with an astonishing, explicit, and nearly wordless 18-minute sequence set in an after-hours Parisian sex club. Théo (Geoffrey Couët), who is smitten with Hugo (François Nambot), coordinates an erotic encounter with him. After climaxing, the guys go off together into the night in a state of bliss.
However, Hugo, who is HIV-positive, kills their post-coital buzz by realizing they had unprotected sex. He urges Théo to immediately get post-exposure medication. During the rest of the night, the two guys get to learn more about one another and fall in love in the process.
“Paris 5:59” is a sweet, serious, and enchanting love story that captures the guys’ nascent romance by following the characters in real time as they bike through the streets, share a meal, and stare at one another, lovingly, on the metro. Couët and Nambot have fabulous chemistry together, and they are quite sexy sans clothes.
Ducastel spoke via Skype with Gay City News about making his superb sexy film.
GARY M. KRAMER: How did you conceive of this film, which takes a relationship from the explicit to the intimate, and from the public to the private?
OLIVIER DUCASTEL: It was important for us to tell a love story between two young guys, and that one of them would be HIV-positive. That they meet in a public space informs how we told the story. If we begin the story with the sex, the characters would know a lot about each other without speaking. That interested us. Théo and Hugo begin with sex, and then they fall in love. It’s good that we end with the guys in a small space. It’s the appropriate place for the characters, because it gives the feeling of closeness between them.
GMK: What can you say were the challenges of creating that 18-minute opening sequence?
OD: It was a lot of work! We had a lot of things to figure out because we have never done a sex scene like that. We’ve had few sex scenes in previous films. We knew we didn’t want it to look like a porno scene, but we wanted to film the sex in a very direct and sincere way without porn grammar and close-ups. We could have rehearsed it, but as the film had a small budget, there was no possibility to rehearse on location with the supporting actors. It was a small space, but we invented everything with the actors and the supporting actors on the set. The first two hours were strange because we had to put all this energy together, but after the first take it was fluid and not so complicated. The two actors really wanted it to be perfect.
GMK: Did the leads have concerns about the explicit sex and nudity?
OD: We had an open discussion with them about the project, how we would film the sex, and what we expected from them. After the meeting, if they agreed and were not afraid and had confidence in us, we’d do the film with them. They really wanted to do the film. However, a producer was afraid that although the actors agreed to be filmed naked, with erections, and giving/ getting blowjobs, that after we started shooting, they would not want to do it, so we had to reassure him. There is a frontier for actors to appear full frontally naked, but erections and blowjobs are often things actors will not do in front of a camera.
GMK: It’s a really astonishing, erotic sequence. What made you decide to have the characters meet in a sex club?
OD: It’s the energy — friendly and generous — of this club. We asked everybody to be sensual with each other. I wanted to show this place was like that. For gay people who know sex clubs –– and for people who don’t go to sex clubs –– there’s this idea that they are rough or unpleasant places. Of course, you can have those kinds of sex clubs, but it’s also a place where you can find love. It was important to have this moment where the characters fantasize in the club — to have this moment be more abstract. It’s a little idealized, but it’s realistic. Since we made the film, we regularly have people testifying that they met their boyfriend in a sex club.
GMK: This is one of several films you have made, including “Jeanne and the Perfect Guy” and “The Adventures of Felix,” that address HIV. Why is this a theme that runs through your work?
OD: For “Felix” it was obvious. We wanted to tell the story of an HIV-positive guy. For this project, it came from being asked to do a prevention short film, and while that film wasn’t done, “Paris 5:59” came from that. We are conscious that young people are not very interested in this question. It’s difficult to answer why, but it follows us. We didn’t decide to do this as a new story with an HIV-positive character. But when we edited the film, we realized that from “Jeanne” to this film, it has been 18 years, and in that time the attitudes toward HIV have changed and this film is recording that.
GMK: What do you want audiences to get from the experience of seeing “Paris 5:59”?
OD: I think the most important thing for me is that everybody knows that you forget that love is so important in life. You should catch every chance to fall in love. We forget that — and say I’m too old or too busy. Love is very important.
5:59: THÉO & HUGO | Directed by Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau | Wolfe Releasing | In French with English subtitles | Opens Jan. 27 | IFC Center, 323 Sixth Ave. at W. Third St. | ifccenter.com