"Every sperm is sacred": Le Temps qui reste (Time to leave), or the reactionary portrait of a bobo queer

, by @Alfred, Polo

In his acclaimed new movie Le temps qui reste, French director Francois Ozon expresses a bourgeois, moralistic view on homosexuality, peppered with machismo and self-hatred. For the director, salvation for homosexuals goes through a complete reframing of one’s self and post-mortem redemption. Work, family, homeland: the media raves about a movie that promotes the status quo.

Old queers making out in the corner

The packaging prompted me to run: a French movie with a gay man as the main character. This format has been used and abused in the sad genre of lame French comedy, which gave us such gems as La Cage aux Folles [1] and more recently Le Placard (The Closet with Gerard Depardieu and Daniel Auteuil). But this time, cross my heart, it’s serious stuff, it’s Ozon. It’s drama, you see. We’re not talking about fairies, we’re talking about life and death. Grab a pack of Kleenex at the entrance. Culture’s spin doctors are getting all emotional.

So eventually, after a handsome young man invited me to the movies, I decided to go. They’re not kidding around. The movie is programmed in a big multiplex in Les Halles, in the center of Paris. The theater is almost empty on a Tuesday night, which goes to show that even in the middle of the gay district of Paris, gay consumerist behavior has limits. The emperor has no clothes. We laugh about it. Two old gay couples are making out in a corner, two young heterosexuals do the same in another. I’m about to follow the trend with my one-night friend, this movie seems so lame and predictible: from the get go you already know how it will end: with death!

Does it smell or does it ooze?

The press, for the most part, liked the movie. Well of course, since it’s Art. Le Monde shared its enthusiasm in one of those flights of lyrical fancy the French magazine Les Inrocks are well-known for, the kind that flies too high to be totally honest. It smells strongly of commercial interest. You have to satisfy bobo consumer-readers, make sure they’ll come back. Status quo? Political correctness? Cronyism? It’s all of this together, laced with a heavy, if nowadays already traditional, concern for profit. A gay man, life, death. The clock ticks on, tick tick tick. Time is money, isn’t it? But let’s be serious for a minute. Was the promotion of Ozon’s last movie so paradoxical? It hesitated between conceited homage to yet another auteur movie, and outright commercial whoring, the most depressing specialty of “gay marketing [2]. Anyway.

Into the movie, you’re asking for an interlude? Fine. We have titillating scenes in stock. After the incredible power of Dolby Surround, I give you the unbelievable fisting scene! On a silver platter, mind you. This, for admen, is THE scene in the movie. The money shot. On French TV, that’s all they can talk about. The same questions everywhere. Shooting a fisting scene, is it like cheating? The scene was shot in a real backroom! Hell and damnation. Mortal sins and ketchup. A night in hell... heterosexuals on the set felt ill at ease, you know, very sensitive about those things, it sure wasn’t easy, and what about the extras fucking heartily in the background...Thirty years of civil rights struggle, and gays are still portrayed with a feather sticking out of their ass, SM and black magic style. Back to square one.

In Search of Lost Time, again

Let’s leave the gossip behind and follow the lecture. We mentioned the seemingly paradoxical advertising campaign. This commercial stance actually reveals the ambiguous politics of the project. Back to the screen: Ozon films the agony of a young, well-to-do man in his thirties, who finds out he suffers from an incurable form of cancer (some people just have no luck). Faced with the improbability of survival, the young man played by Melvil Poupaud (he had to be sexy, of course), decides to let himself die in a few weeks without treatment, and without telling his family and friends (drama!).

A well-known fashion photographer, travelling around the world to shoot portraits of models, sniffing coke and drinking champagne like it’s going out of style, Romain is gay. This is crucial. Indeed, contrary to those who saw in Ozon’s movie a question (and, necessarily, a universal question) about the meaning of life, the director, taking advantage hiding behind an existential treatment, offers as subtext his own ideas on homosexuality; or is it just his social subconscious talking?

Ozon says he didn’t make a gay movie-and cannot say enough that he didn’t have his character die from AIDS because it’s “too heavily connoted”-his choice of equating time passing by and alternative sexuality is far from being insignificant. This question, indeed-tick, tick, tick-and that of the meaning of life, its corollary, intermingle to become one same interrogation about the place of Man, a vision of his future, of his accomplishments. For left- and right-wing homophobes, alternative sexualities are necessarily tragic in that they break away from natural order-symbolized by a cycle of life centered around reproduction-, an order based on a vertical and patriarcal social structure (i.e. the reproduction of all forms of domination).

Come back, lord Jesus Christ! Salvation has gone out of style. The invasion of pagans, beggars and heretics is nigh. For those people, homosexuals are incapable of sublimating the anal stage; in other words, gays cannot become responsible human beings, they’re incapable of becoming adults, they cannot find their place in the conformist temporality of heteronomous society. They’re handicapped. They’re minors in a world of adults, and minors they will remain.Time is first and foremost a matter of power. A gay man, ckfe, death. Tick tick tick. Time is money, isn’t it?

Oh? Is it AIDS?

In depicting a tragedy, Ozon could have chosen a different treatment: that of subversion, somewhere between celebration of freedom and call for autonomy, personal ethics, and the reinvention of society. But no. quite the opposite...
Could it be that I didn’t grasp the irony of the director towards his characters, his critical perspective? This rather seems to be a cynical self-portrait: Ozon, Romain, same deal. We are given bourgeois distanciation, the laughter of big money. This, the tragedy of homosexuality, is shown as a tragic painting, an estheticization of death urge. I told you, it’s art. Of course, the media applauded Ozon’s avoiding pity, sordid realism..., so many proofs of the higly artistic quality of his work. But this study in the self reeks of self hatred, mixed with the political correctness of the age. It smells of conservatism. Here’s Romain, talking to his doctor: “I won’t lie to you, this is serious... -Oh? Is it AIDS?” Feelings of uneasiness. AIDS is “too heavily connoted”, but you can play with it. This is a sad expression of interiorized homophobia, once again the death urge... and the reproduction of archaic systems.

Family, I love you

Who said that in homosexuality everything was possible, all could be negotiated? No siree. In the first scene of the movie, the bodies shown on the screen-that of Romain and his boyfriend, lying in bed, slowly waking up to the morning light-offered to the camera’s eye, are there to assert the director’s vision. The ambiguity is obvious. Shot against the light, the boyfriend’s butt and waist look very feminine, contrasted with a muscular, ill-shaven Romain... is that a woman by Romain...? We were almost fooled. It turns out to be his boyfriend, he’s younger, life has yet to hurt him like it did Romain. In this exposition scene, Ozon bodily introduces a couple that, later on in the movie, will prove very assymetrical: on the one hand we have Romain, the macho, and on the other his boyfriend, who reproduces behavior naturally associated with women by society (i.e. patience and selflessness, against the sense of initiative and desire expected in men). In other words, years after The Birdcage, behind the smokescreen of political correcteness, we haven’t budged an inch: we still have the same roles, even between two men: one is the girl and the other is the man... what about reversibility? Ozon, machoman, prefers to avoid the question by offering beautiful sex scenes to his audience. His reactionary vision is nevertheless present throughout the movie, if not in Romain’s relationship, then in the answers given in the confrontation with death; work, family, homeland. Good old conservative values always come in handy.

With Ozon, death is kept at bay by bourgeois morals. In them lies salvation. Ozon, good Samaritan that he is, gives his gay hero and his audience prepackaged salvation. How to end it all as a heterosexual. Romain ends up accepting the proposition of a married couple in need of semen. Sublime reward, the gay man gives himself to a woman in front of her husband. A fantasmagorical triangle. Romain, fucking without desire, is no competition to the husband. Again and again, what is suggested is the power of the white, heterosexual male. We’ll make it fit, or better of for worse. Romain will be a posthumous father. In the face of death, salvation according to Ozon is called procreation. Hence those images pervading the movie: carefree children playing games under their mothers’ watch, naturally; Romain’s sister and her family issues, for better or for worse. At the notary public’s, Romain recognizes the child in advance and makes him his heir. Conventions are respected and appearances safe. Everything is in order-tick, tick tick-Romain is reinscribed in the cycle of life thanks to the symbolism of biological kinship. He can walk with his head up high, he is finally an adult, he has a place in society. No subversion. Rather, this is the triumph of pessimism and fatalism, the reign of shame, even.

Every sperm is sacred

A shameful queer, pride in semen; there lies the moral of this story. In the end, a man can only fulfil his destiny by using his precious bodily fluids in order to renew... life. This is the primal justification for all oppression, but it also guarantees redemption. Those very same bodily fluids, the fluids of puritan America derided by Kubrick, were defended by general Rippler in Dr. Strangelove, a subversive and chilling masterpiece. Eros, Thanatos, the infernal couple, lurks in the shadow of the mushroom cloud. But us queers, minors we are, minors we remain. We’re incapable of building, and society refuses that we too might have a story. Morals would have it that we go around in circles around ourselves, narcissistic, self-centered beings that we are! Reinvention is denied us, contained, repressed. This is what Ozon wanted to film; he wanted to preserve on film his reactionary vision of a man’s love for another man. A macho vision from Hell. It’s all about sex in the end. The movie’s over, it’s now 2 am, you can all go back to bed. I guess I don’t appreciate bourgeois humor or self-hatred, distanciation to the point of nihilism. Lights out. There is no future. So far so good, so far so good...


[1Adapted in the US as The Birdcage.

[2After 30 years of homosexual struggle for social visibility, the market has finally digested those political demands by transforming homosexuals into a commercial target. This movement has been supported by the commercial interests of homosexual sex business, represented in France by the Syndicat National des Entreprises Gaies(National Association of Gay Businesses). Nowadays, when every artistic endeavor is first and foremost a cultural product, marketing strategies aim at reaching the gay target through sponsoring the gay press.