One wonders if the English translation of Olivier Peyon’s latest film (and the 2017 novel on which it is based) was chosen for its potential double meaning. The trailer and promotional material for LIE WITH ME hint at the memories of first romance between two teenage boys in rural France, a sun-swept one whose facts and end the film will reveal. The implication is romance, burgeoning sexuality, and desire. But the French title – ARRÊTE AVEC TES MENSONGES, literally ‘stop with your lies’ – is an invitation into an untruth, removing the sexual and romantic implications the English title can evoke in an uninformed viewer. What is underneath is far knottier and more interesting. For this tale of one man remembering a relationship kept desperately secret at the time, and forming a bond with his deceased boyfriend’s son, secrecy and half-truths raise the stakes masterfully, making this more than a wistful tale of remembrance.
The events of LIE WITH ME would seem trivial to anyone other than the two concerned parties, and it is the everyday details and bucolic setting that allow character moments to organically emerge. Successful author Stéphane Belcourt (Guillaume de Tonquédec) returns to his hometown of Cognac on invitation; a local distillery has offered him a position as spokesperson, and he takes the local publicity tour as a chance to revisit old haunts and seek old faces. When Lucas Andrieu (Victor Belmondo) shows up at his book signing, Stéphane enquires if Lucas’ father, Thomas, still lives in the area, to learn that Thomas died the year before. As a romance between young Stéphane and Thomas (Jérémy Gillet and Julien De Saint Jean, respectively) unfolds in flashback, Stéphane and Lucas begin spending time together to reminisce about Thomas through guarded questions. In a strong storytelling move, Thomas is never seen in midscale flashbacks, living entirely in Stéphane’s remembered past.
“The events of LIE WITH ME would seem trivial to anyone other than the two concerned parties, and it is the everyday details and bucolic setting that allow character moments to organically emerge.”
However, the gaps in Stéphane’s and Lucas’s knowledge soon require uncomfortable questions. While the film does not entirely avoid a slide into sentimentality, especially in the final act, de Tonquédec and Belmondo are consistently sharp and human, interacting with unforced awkwardness initially and naturally evolving into a closer friendship. Of course, the increased comfort with the other is the space where uncomfortable questions emerge.
When escaping the same town was one’s entire goal earlier in life, the sense of return to a small town is captured with poignancy and nuance. The feeling that Stéphane’s flight was driven more by his own demons as much as it was by the town’s insularity complicates the picture, elevating and balancing what could be a story of one brave crusader trapped in a backwards community. The past is softer and brighter (fitting flashback conventions), but Stéphane’s explorations of Cognac and its beautiful surrounding countryside are similarly tinted with this nostalgia. For him, his return seems to collide and combine past and present.
Considering the measured naturalism of much of the preceding film, the somewhat soppy tonal shift in LIE WITH ME’s final few minutes feels jarring. But the hope and closure engendered by the idea of confession as absolution, transformation, and release fits the film’s overarching gentleness. Perhaps the spikier side of such lies and revelations is too easily wrapped up, but the thematic closure is earned and satisfactory.