Hollywood je t’aime (Jason Bushman, 2009): USA

Reviewed by Richard Feilden.  Viewed at The Mann Festival Theatre as part of the 2009 Los Angeles Film Festival.

hollywood-je-taimeSo I finally have a moment to breathe and get back to reviewing the films that I was fortunate enough to see at the 2009 Los Angeles film festival.  At every festival I’ve visited, I’ve easily been able to pick out what I considered the best and worst movies; this festival made things trickier, at least in one category.  I was delighted to find that, while one film scooped the ‘stinker’ award with ease (and I’ll share my vitriol on that one soon), the Palme d’Rik was strongly contested.  But a winner has to be declared, and this year the prize goes to <reaches into envelope> Hollywood je t’aime.

The film is a fish-out-of-water comedy about true love, and other dreams.  Jerome (Eric Debets) has just broken up with his boyfriend.  The Parisian winter, not to mention walking in on his ex, Gilles (Jonathan Blanc), having sex with a new lover, is driving him into depression.  So, on the advice of a poster that springs into life in a travel-agent’s window, he books a last-minute Christmas break in Hollywood.  And so he is off to the land where the sun always shines, dreams come true, and the boys are pretty enough to make him forget his lover!  Everything goes splendidly, right up to the point when he lands.  He runs into surly customs officials, confusing American tipping rituals, fleabag hotels and the realization that Hollywood Boulevard might just be the sleaziest place on earth.  What begins as a little escapism soon becomes a trek through seedy bathhouses and sublimely ridiculous Hollywood casting calls, where phoniness is rewarded and deception embraced.  Still, with a drug dealer, an aging drag queen, and a stunning transsexual hooker on his side, the possibilities are endless!

So, what made this film stand out for me from the rest of the festival crowd?  There is the expressionistic shooting style.  Grey winter in Paris is literally rendered in grey, with color only being introduced to the film once Jerome trades his figurative baggage for the more literal kind.  Then there is the way that the fantasy lure of Hollywood is echoed in the magical realism of the film.  Jerome’s ex-lover appears to him, a ghost-like reminder that the dream of fame and fortune on the big screen may be just that– a dream.  In a wonderful reversal of the Peter Finch’s response when asked how he managed to kiss a man on screen (I just closed my eyes and thought of England), Jerome summons up the image of his lover when asked to feign attraction to a woman in a pizza commercial.  It’s gently subversive, making fun of the heterosexual hegemony of the box-office, but without the spite or denigration of ‘comic’ gay representations in Hollywood’s own fare.

What really set this film apart from the others though were the characters.  The laconic Frenchman ends up surrounded by an exquisite cast of Hollywood’s colorful, flamboyant detritus, the people who cause polite society to look the other way.  They are rendered with care and detail, ensuring that each is a fully formed person, not a caricature.  Drag queen Norma (Michael Airington) is particularly fabulous, in every sense of the word.  She could have so easily have become a stereotype, based on either her lifestyle or her age, yet Airington and the script make her brassy yet fragile, obnoxious but loveable, and bitchy while desperately loyal.  She also gets some of the film’s funniest lines (laughs and cheers erupted from the festival audience at her screaming ‘Good eyes’ at a homophobic youth who quite astutely observes that, yes, she and her friends are indeed gay) and many of its most tender moments.

If you like your films clean cut and wholesome, this film will stretch your mind as much as it does those of its characters.  If you think nudity in film should revolve around topless nubile girls, be prepared to have the balance redressed as the film contains several scenes of male full frontal nudity and gay sex.  If, however, you want to see a touching story about trying to find your place in the world, even if you have to go half way around the planet to make that connection, then you’ll love this film.  This really is uncompromising queer cinema that can be loved by a straight audience, if they are willing to give it a chance.  Perhaps dreams can come true after all.

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