Unseen for decades, the remarkable 1980 French gay porn film “Equation to an Unknown” offers connoisseurs of the genre a real eyeful during its week-long release at Anthology Film Archives. The film was rediscovered by out gay director Yann Gonzalez (“Knife + Heart”), who created a new print from a negative he found.
It is the only film directed by Francis Savel, who used the pseudonym Dietrich de Velsa. (Fun Fact: Savel worked under the name Frantz Salieri for Joseph Losey on “Don Giovanni” and “Mr. Klein.”)
The plot, as per any porn film, is simple to non-existent: A sexy, enigmatic biker (Gianfranco Longhi) embarks on a series of sexy, enigmatic encounters. The film’s ambiguity regarding what is real and what is imagined hardly matters. Most of de Velsa’s film is simply a wet fever dream.
The first set piece has the biker on the sidelines of a soccer pitch eyeing a young man rather than watching the game. When the teammates all go take a shower, there is an infectious scene of horseplay as the guys try to grab each other’s cocks. Meanwhile, an injured athlete gets a rub down from a teammate until another player urges, “Massage his cock! He’ll like that even better.” As the massage turns sexual, the biker spies on the erotic coupling through a window and starts pleasuring himself. These sex scenes are all filmed for maximum sensuality. The camera features such intimate close-ups of a rim job and a blowjob that viewers might think the lens is going to get swallowed.
However, the scene ends abruptly, and the biker goes home where he gets undressed, into bed, and fantasizes about what he just saw or experienced, with flashbacks to the locker room and a four-way sex scene.
The biker is later awoken by François (Aurélien Duguet), who could be his friend, lover, roommate, or fuck buddy. It’s unclear. But after a brief exchange, the biker commands François to jerk him off, which he does in a single-take that is highly erotic. And when the biker wants to return the favor, the sexual tension between the men is palpable.
One of the many pleasures of “Equation to an Unknown” is not just that the guys are gorgeous, but that de Velsa films them in a way that showcases their erotic appeal. He celebrates their naked bodies, their musculature, and masculine features — de Velsa almost never misses an opportunity to get a cock in the shot. He obviously admires these guys and wants viewers to be as turned on as he is — and as the actors are.
More importantly, de Velsa communicates the joy of sex in the film. The actors appear to be truly enjoying themselves. The biker breathless and writhing in ecstasy after François gets him off particularly resonates.
The film does include lengthy scenes of the biker driving around town to provide a breather before the next sexcapade. There is an artful sequence shot in a bar where the biker watches a young guy (Dominique Delattre) playing pinball. Here de Velsa uses mirrors and other surfaces to reflect images of men as the camera pans around the café, eventually zooming in on a hot guy in a construction hat. A sex scene soon follows in a bathroom where several men have their way with the pinball player. The construction guy bends him over and practically plays him like a machine; another guy uses him for water sports. These raw scenes don’t quite jive with the rest of the film’s more sensual encounters, but that doesn’t make them any less interesting.
“Equation to an Unknown” is most enticing when the biker stops at a gas station for a fill up and flirts with the attendant (Tony Weber) telling him, “With your bod, you’ll get a great hot rod.” It may be a groaner of a line, but the biker agrees to give the gas guy a ride on his motorcycle in exchange for head. Cue synth music and shots that echo Andy Warhol’s “Blow Job.” As other men arrive on the scene, they head out to a quiet place to couple up. The film suggests that gay sex in 1980 was still something that had to take place in the shadows. It won’t go unnoticed that this skin flick was a product of the pre-AIDS era; there is not a condom in sight.
As the biker returns home, he reencounters François and they talk about monogamy.
“You have to be mine,” he says. “And you have to be the one who wants it.”
Yet, this leads to the film’s climax, a fantasy sequence where all of the men the biker has fucked arrive, undress, and get into bed with him for an extended, explicit orgy. It is a masterful 20-minute sequence, yet also oddly wistful. With that, “Equation to an Unknown” ends as much with a whimper as a bang.
An artifact from an earlier era, De Velsa’s film is a true gem.
EQUATION TO AN UNKNOWN | Directed by Dietrich de Velsa | Altered Innocence | In French, with English subtitles | Opens Nov. 14 | Anthology Film Archives, 32 Second Ave. at Second St.; anthologyf
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