In the 1930s, Georges de Sarre, a fifteen-year old boy from an aristocratic background,
begins his studies in a Jesuit boarding school. He strikes up an immediate friendship
with a fellow student of his own age, Lucien. On discovering that Lucien already
has a close relationship with another boy, André, Georges contrives to get the
latter expelled from the school. Georges then notices Alexandre, a boy who is some
years younger than himself, and is struck by his purity and beauty. To Georges's
delight, Alexandre enjoys his company, and the two boys become good friends. They
exchange love poems and meet in secret; they can hardly bear to be apart. When one
of the priests is on the brink of uncovering the nature of his relationship with Alexandre,
Georges manages to get him dismissed for "inappropriate involvement" with his boys.
Free from the fear of discovery, Georges and Alexandre pursue their perfect friendship,
growing ever closer. But for how long can this idyll continue...?
This beguiling adaptation of Roger Peyrefitte's controversial gay-themed novel was directed
by Jean Delannoy, one of the most accomplished and versatile of French filmmakers of his
day. Over the decade which preceded this film, Delannoy received harsh criticism
from the New Wave directors, notably François Truffaut, who condemned his work
for lacking artistic vision and being subservient to cinematic conventions - none of which
actually stands up very well when you consider the totality of his work. In his
own way, Delannoy was just as much an auteur
as Truffaut and deserves to be seen as such. One film which demonstrates this is
Les Amitiés particulières
should be rated as one of Delannoy's best films - and certainly his most daring.
Films about homosexuality were not unheard of in the early 1960s, but they were comparatively
rare, and few films treated the subject with any real seriousness. Les
is one of the few films that gets anywhere
near to portraying gay love with much the same poetry and believability as the great male-female
love stories in cinema. Understandably, the film focuses on the emotional and psychological
side of things, and leaves any suggestion of the physical side to our imagination.
As in the best love films, what matters is that we feel deeply for the two protagonists
and that we believe in their sentiments for one another. In these respects, Jean
Delannoy and his screenwriters appear to be telling a conventional love story. But
it is clearly far more than that…
The arresting performances from Francis Lacombrade
(remarkably his one and only film credit) and child actor Didier Haudepin bring to the
film a kind of raw edge, poetry and spiritual intensity that is rare, even in French love
films. (You might think that Delannoy had learned a thing or two from his New Wave
opponents in this area.) The boyhood friendship they portray is like one of those
abstract sculptures - unsettling, unfamiliar yet unmistakably a thing of immense beauty.
It is also like a radiant beacon which casts light into some very dark and sinister places.
To protect his secret treasure (an obviously forbidden love), Georges has to resort
to an act of despicable treachery. Those who think they know best - the priests
running the school - use the most cruel and underhand tactics to separate the boys (and
believe they are doing good in doing so). At least two of the priests are shown
to have distinct paedophilic tendencies - two outwardly saintly figures tortured by an
unspeakable desire, which at least one of them nurtures on a regular basis. The
angelic, spiritual tone with which the film begins gradually dissolves and what we see
is something quite different. Amid a bed of poisonous nettles and thorny weeds there
grows a thing of immense beauty - the undying love that one human creature can have for
Whilst Les Amitiés particulières
stands as a powerful, deeply moving love story, it is actually far more than that.
It is a pretty direct assault on the double standards and hypocrisies of contemporary
society, which is forever governed by prejudice, petty rules and double standards.
The determination of the priests running the school to preserve the spiritual well-being
of their students borders on obsession, having a distinct fascist undertone. Of
course, the reason for their zealousness is all too apparent: their fear is that they,
not their boys, will fall in the way of temptation.
In such a society, where a
semblance of prim respectability is everything, evil is bound to thrive, allowing
Machieavellian intrigue to be easily rewarded, whilst all manner of unspeakable things
are conducted in secret places. On the surface, the school is the very essence of
goodness and sanctity; beneath this false veneer, we see signs of moral decay, unnatural
desires and a suggestion of immoral conduct. How ironic that the thing which exposes
these worst failings in human nature is the most noble sentiment of all: love.
And how ironic is it, that in another setting, this love - between an adolescent and a
much younger boy - might be seen as something quite grotesque...
© James Travers
The above article was written for filmsdefrance.com and should not be reproduced in any medium without the author's permission.
Other recommended drama films of the 1960s from France include the following: Jacques Demy's La Baie des anges
Claude Chabrol's La Femme infidèle
Jean Dewever's Les Honneurs de la guerre
Peter Brook's Moderato cantabile
Henri-Georges Clouzot's La Vérité