Un vrai bonhomme (Man Up!) and Mes jours de gloire are both coming-of-age stories about boys who are ill-equipped to cope with their mental health issues.
Un vrai bonhomme and Mes jours de gloire, two titles at the Cinemania French Film Festival, would make for a good double feature about boys (or men) suffering from mental health problems that they’re afraid to address. Both are often smart about men’s emotional lives, though both also make the misstep of equating successful sexual conquest with a panacea for all problems.
Man Up! (Un vrai bonhomme)
Benjamin Voisin first impressed me this year as a closeted teen in Proud, and then as an object of desire in Summer of ‘85 — to the point that I hadn’t even realised it was the same actor. So it was for his performance that I checked out Un vrai bonhomme, in which he plays Léo, the older brother of the film’s protagonist, Tom (Thomas Guy). Léo dies early in the film, but continues to appear as Tom’s imaginary friend who, by turns, cheers his little brother on and offers a toxically masculine influence on the sensitive, grieving teen. Here, Voisin is once again infectiously charismatic, but with a dark edge.
But Benjamin Parent’s Un vrai bonhomme is very much Thomas Guy’s, who plays the central character, Tom, grieving the loss of his brother while starting at a new high school, without having properly dealt with his anxiety that can lead to violent outbursts. To cope, Tom imagines that his brother, Léo (Voisin), is always by his side, offering advice and support — even if it’s terrible advice based on masculine ideals Tom has trouble recognizing as problematic. Guy is utterly convincing and compelling as a sensitive boy who doesn’t know how to talk about his feelings or ask for help, but who occasionally opens up enough to find genuine friendship and romantic connection. Though the female characters who act as signposts to Tom’s development are disappointingly underdeveloped, Tom’s journey to find himself, and say goodbye to the ghost of his brother, are heartfelt and often funny.
Mes jours de gloire (My Days of Glory)
At this point, any film starring Vincent Lacoste is worth seeing for his performance; he has a knack for playing neurotic goofballs and losers with enough sensitivity that you can’t help but love them. Whether it’s as the nanny-turned-lover in In Bed with Victoria, the uncle-turned-unexpected-father who must cope with the trauma of a terrorist attack in Amanda, or the doctor hopeful who keeps failing his medical school exams in The Freshmen, Lacoste is always fascinating and fun.
In Antoine de Bary’s Mes jours de gloire, he plays a twentysomething struggling actor, Adrien, who is in so much debt that he is about to lose his apartment, and all of his belongings. But he’s incapable of admitting to his faults or his increasing depression and struggles with intimacy. When he unexpectedly lands a part playing a young De Gaulle (funnily enough, you can watch another biopic of De Gaulle at Cinemania and Cinefranco this week) because he looks the part, things start to look up. His career could be restarting, and he meets a girl (Noée Abita, sadly underused) ten years too young for him but probably more emotionally mature than he is. But when both of these opportunities fall apart, so does he, and the film deftly heads into oft unexplored territory of suicide and male depression.
Lacoste is equally adept at physical comedy as he is at showing his character’s deep vulnerability and sadness. Early in the film, his psychiatrist mother suggests that he struggles with romantic intimacy because he is incapable of physically touching his friends. The way Lacoste awkwardly starts trying to touch his friends’ shoulders in solidarity, is absolutely hilarious. At the same time, the way Adrien turns his own mental health struggles into a joke as an avoidance tactic, is heartbreaking. By the time he breaks down, Lacoste has utterly earned our sympathy for this not quite grown up man.
You could be missing out on films like Mes jours de gloire and Un vrai bonhomme at virtual cinemas and film festivals near you.
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