Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau met and fell in love while making their first film, the musical Jeanne And The Perfect Guy. That makes them a rarity -- a French filmmaking team who are openly gay and a couple.
Their second feature, Funny Felix, is a wonderful road picture focusing on the happy-go-lucky Felix (Sami Bouajila), who gives himself a week to travel from Dieppe to Marseilles to find the father he never knew.
One of the most interesting aspects of the film is the fact that Felix is half-Arab, and his trip opens his eyes to prejudice he's never encountered before. "Felix is from an Arab background, but he's absolutely French," states Martineau.
Both Martineau and Ducastel have come to Toronto to attend the Inside Out Film And Video Festival screening of Funny Felix, where they've worked wonders communicating in English.
"He doesn't think of his identity in a political way, and this is the first time he faces his identity. It's not easy. It's like when a gay man first hears someone say, 'Oh, you faggot!' It's very difficult to accept that negative definition from other people."
The film has opened in France and is doing well, but it might surprise North Americans to learn that the supposedly sexually progressive French don't embrace gay films.
"Audiences in Paris react differently than audiences in other towns," says Martineau. "It's still new for people in France to see two guys kissing in a movie. Some people don't feel at ease with it. No one wants to tell this to our faces, but we realize it."
"People are used to La Cage Aux Folles-type gay films," notes Ducastel, "but lines are crossed in our movie, and people aren't used to that."
"We have a lot of gay directors in France, but they're in the closet," says Martineau. "They make movies and everyone knows they're gay, but no one talks about it. Their films walk the edge."
"You know, I always thought Truffaut was gay when I was younger," muses Ducastel, "because there was always a gay character in his films and the movies were full of beautiful people. He's not gay, but he has a great gay aesthetic."
In Funny Felix, the hero comes across a group of people who become a kind of surrogate family.
"We didn't speak about the fact that Felix meets his imaginary family on the road. That just came out when I wrote the script," remembers Martineau.
Cute couple I don't want to embarrass them by saying they're a cute couple, but they are.
I wonder if Felix is an assemblage of their best qualities, a mix of both their personalities.
"Felix is an invention," says Ducastel, "but there are a lot of things in Felix's life that are close to us."
"When Felix meets the first character, a young boy, and tells him, 'You're like a brother to me,' well, that's autobiographical for me," says Martineau.
"It's autobiographical for everybody," says a laughing Ducastel.
"It happened with one of my best friends," remembers Martineau. "He said, 'You're like a little brother to me,' and I was so angry."
OLIVIER DUCASTEL and JACQUES MARTINEAU
FUNNY FELIX Rating: NNNN
This is a quiet, narratively relaxed film that sneaks up on you. When Felix (Sami Bouajila) discovers an old letter from the father who abandoned him as a baby, he decides to hitchhike to Marseilles and track the man down. He agrees to meet his boyfriend (Pierre-Loup Rajot) in a week and sets off on foot. Along the way, he meets people who could be his imaginary family -- a little brother (a gay teen), a grandmother (an elderly woman who invites Felix to stay with her) and a sister (a single mother who needs Felix's babysitting skills). Felix is the most well-adjusted gay man I've ever seen onscreen, and his loving sensibilities win us over instantly. By the final shot, I found myself crying, hoping I'll come across a Felix somewhere in my own travels. IR