Review: Les Invisibles (2012)

Sebastien Lifshitz lets his real life cast do the talking in this documentary exploring the lives and loves of gay and lesbian individuals in their later years.

A poignant account of love, lust and everything in between told through eleven men and woman in their 60s and 70s – you would be forgiven for thinking that you might be in store for a cringe worthy ear-bashing of the Grampa Simpson sort. OAPs tittering on about rumpy pumpy in their heyday is not the sort of thing most people would class as an entertaining watch.

Thankfully, with director Sebastien Lifshitz (Come Undone and Wild Side) there is no chance of being subjected to a tedious purple rinsed affair. Instead, Les Invisibles is a series of intimate and frank interviews detailing the journey taken by gay and lesbian individuals from their early days of breaking the conventional mould to the present day as out and proud elderly citizens in modern day France.

As with Lifshitz’s previous accolades, the focus is on the sincerity of the story being told – it’s bare bones stuff – the elderly narrators taking centre stage throughout with no Theroux or Bashir style butting in.

Beautifully shot, framing the faces of the individuals as they are being interviewed or following them around during their day-to-day lives without feeling like a journalist is at their heels with a camera, Les Invisibles strikes a seamless balance, never straying into shock doc territory but likewise getting a no holds barred account from its real life cast.

For some it was easy, an early homosexual encounter cemented feelings that had always been brewing. Others were subjected to bearing the façade of heterosexual normality until age, wisdom and regret forced their true feelings to the surface with one interviewee even having gone to the South Pole to escape before finally coming out; ‘I wasted my youth’ he tells the camera – a brutal admission that would make but the toughest of hearts bleed.

There’s plenty of laughs to lighten the mood however, whether it be the glorious double act that is Jacques and Bernard, a homosexual couple in their late seventies, or spindly octogenarian goat-herder Pierrot who is more than happy to take the camera on a tour of all the places he’s bonked countless men and women, not to mention the owner of the best masturbation euphemism ever – Madame Thumb and her four daughters.

First introductions over, the film digs a little deeper as its cast describe what it was like being homosexual at a time when society on the whole was denouncing such openness. From same sex relationships being privately lived to flaunting their stuff (literally) at gay pride rallies, the roads taken by some of the cast could not have been more dissimilar. Lifshitz’s documentary is looking at the bigger picture and Les Invisibles is clearly a respectful nod towards all its cast as the early pioneers of, what was at the time, a life lived less ordinary.

With so many stories to tell, there is inevitably a couple of weak links in the chain. One or two accounts, whilst never outrightly suspect, have the faint whiff of embellishment – the hot seat an understandably tempting platform for the more exuberant individuals to add some retrospective gloss to what is undeniably already an engaging story. Not to worry, there is plenty of subtlety to balance out any of the taller tales.

Three quarters of the way through and it is questionable whether homosexuality is the real compelling element of Les Invisibles. It’s more the explicit, touching and often hilarious nature of sex. The message quickly becomes less one of how love and loss affect us the same regardless of sexual orientation but a gentle nudge that passion does not dissipate in our winter years. Thérèse’s account, in particular, speaks volumes as she recalls an affair she had had at the age of 77 that saw her waiting on tenterhooks by the phone for her lover to call back – who says puppy love is just for teens?

The overall highlight? Without a doubt it’s Jacques helping Bernard put on his socks, the latter clearly playing up to the camera in a bid to embarrass his shyer and far more reserved partner. Sweet and effortlessly funny, it’s cinema gold.

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