French film uncovers the invisible generation
A documentary about the lives of French gays and lesbians who are now in their 70s and 80s tells us a lot about how queers used to live. Reviewed by Andrew Shaw.
Featured in the Special Screenings section of the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, The Invisibles is a documentary about the lives, from childhood to adulthood, of a group of French gays, lesbians and bisexuals, now all over the age of 70.
They talk about growing up, some in rural settings, others in cities. They speak candidly about the sexual habits of the day – “oral sex was considered for prostitutes” – and how they came to terms with their own sexuality.
An elderly goatherd talks about how he observed from nature what was natural, and enjoyed many a night at a clandestine beat by the local river. As a shepherd boy he enjoyed being seduced by a much older man: “It’s inborn, you like it or you don’t,” he says, before telling us that goats also masturbate.
One woman led a traditional married life until at 40 she was reborn as a lesbian, politicised by feminism and the revolutionary movement in Paris in 1968.
One man talks of his lost youth spent in denial, until he also became involved in the gay liberation movement of the late Sixties. Archival footage of gay men and women dancing in a Paris underground club is shown, as well as women in male attire. Reflecting the spirit of the times, a sneering narrator comments on the “pathetic results” of the drag kings' masculine appeal and the “underlying sadness” of the gay men; although it’s clear to our modern gaze that everyone is enjoying themselves.
“There was a time when collective declaration of sexuality was crucial,” says one woman, now living as a lesbian, at the dinner table surrounded by her children. Of her former marriage, she says, “I was perfect for 20 years. I felt that was enough.”
This film shows that the invisibility that came with being “perfect” was exchanged by older gays and lesbians for the right to live their lives openly and tell their stories, something recorded here with a pastoral, gentle touch.
The Invisibles dir by Sébastien Lifshitz is part of the Alliance Française French Film Festival, screening at Palace Barracks (Mon March 18) and Palace Centro (Tues March 26). Session details: affrenchfilmfestival.org
FILM PASSES GIVEAWAY