(2016, 97 min)
Director: Jacques Martineau, Olivier Ducastel
Studio: Wolfe Releasing
Language: French with subtitles
It's after midnight in a Paris gay sex club when Théo and Hugo lock eyes across the crowded
room -- and their connection is electric. They make their way together and have passionate
sex. Afterwards, they leave the club and explore the streets of Paris, drunk with the
possibilities of love at first sight, as well as sobered by the risks of their passion.
Warning: This film contains graphic sex and nudity. Viewer discretion is advised.
Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau’s “Paris 05:59 Theo and Hugo” is a French gay film that opens
with an 18-minute orgy scene. The setting is a Paris sex club. The camera starts out surveying the bar
area, where naked men sit chatting over drinks, then follows one middle-aged guy downstairs to an area
where perhaps two dozen men are going at it.
For a while, the camera moves around the room observing the undifferentiated mass of orgiasts indulging
in an array of sex acts. Most, if not all, participants are presumably unknown to each other. Soon, the
middle-aged guy spots a younger guy and tries to get something going. The younger guy quickly moves away
and engages other partners. Then his eyes fall on another young guy he obviously finds attractive. The
feeling is mutual, we soon see. The two move toward each other and embrace. The camera observes them as
they have sex over a few minutes.
It should be noted that this scene is hardcore, meaning it contains erect penises and sex acts that are
shown explicitly. There are two things, though, that set it apart from most pornography. One is that it
is very artfully filmed and doesn’t include close-ups of genitals. The other is that it’s not an end
unto itself but a set-up for the story that follows.
That story, in fact, is announced and begun in the sex scene, with the looks exchanged between the two
guys. They are not simply lustful looks but seem to suggest something more. Love at first sight? Could
be. Referencing Agnes Varda’s New Wave classic “Cleo from 5 to 7,” “Paris 05:59” follows the two young
guys in real time from the moment they leave the sex club, shortly after 4:30 a.m., till the minute
given in the title. Theo (Geoffrey Couet), who has short brown curly hair, and Hugo (Francois Nabmot),
with straight dark hair, start out getting rent-a-bikes and talking exultantly as they wheel through the city.
Recalling not only Varda but also Godard, Rivette and other directors who’ve made visual love to Paris
using mobile cameras and high-speed film stocks, this bicycling passage has a lyrical exhilaration in
its breathless rush through the beautiful city’s empty pre-dawn streets. The conversation contains its
own intoxication, as the two guys begin discussing their carnal but also more-than-carnal attraction to
The emotional up comes crashing down, though, when they stop riding and start recalling what happened
at the club. Hugo admits he had an orgasm inside Theo without using a condom, and he’s HIV+. He says
he’s on meds and his viral load is negligible, but that doesn’t keep Theo from freaking out. An AIDS
hotline they call advises going to a hospital right away. Theo says he doesn’t want Hugo to accompany
him and sets off on his own. But Hugo follows him and, at the hospital, they see the doctor together.
In this scene it’s noted that the chances of Theo contracting HIV from that single encounter are less
than one percent. Nevertheless the doctor advises his undergoing the currently standard morning-after
treatment, which involves taking pills for 28 days. As much as this solution seems viable, it doesn’t
banish the tension and mistrust that have emerged between the men since Hugo dropped his bombshell.
The remainder of the film follows the guys as they wend their way homeward and basically try to decide
if they want this new relationship to last more than this one night or not. The key here is an attraction
that looks from the very first like love, and the film conveys its growth—amid difficulties like those
just noted—both delicately and persuasively.
"People tell me to learn to live with AIDS. I don’t want to live with it," Hugo notes somewhat morosely.
"I want to live against it." With dialogue like this, “Paris 05:59” conjures a world and a moment in time,
and it does so with an understated skill throughout. Enormous credit, though, must also go to the casting
and performances of the two actors. Couet and Nambot are slender, nice- but not extraordinary-looking
twentysomethings who are very believable in their roles, but most of all have a chemistry that makes
you wonder how much of their romantic attraction is acting.
Twenty or 30 years ago, the explicitness and authenticity of “Paris 05:59” might’ve made it into a
crossover hit. Indeed, Cyril Collard’s “Savage Nights” (1992), which had some of the same qualities,
became one of the most honored French films of its era. But today, exceptions-that-prove-the-rule like
“Weekend” and “Stranger by the Lake” notwithstanding, such films rarely escape cinema’s gay ghetto.
“Paris 05:59,”’s charms are likely slight enough, and its raunch raunchy enough, to keep it from
becoming one of those rare exceptions.
Plus, gays of these characters’ age are likely to find it curiously outdated, since PrEP is never
mentioned. But then, if you took the specter of AIDS away from the story, it would lose much of its
drama. That reality poses interesting questions about the future of films like this.
-- Godfrey Cheshire, Roger Ebert Reviews (http://www.rogerebert.com/)