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‘Come Undone’ Is a Subtle and Involving Look at Growing Up

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Sebastien Lifshitz’s “Come Undone,” one of the best offerings of the recent Outfest 2001, brings maximum subtlety, nuance and insight into the timeless story of first love. Adhering to the French cinema’s finest tradition of intimate drama in which emotions are taken seriously, Lifshitz experiments with shifts in time while eliminating many of the conventional confrontations.

His risky approach pays off because the result is a film that has all the more impact for its discretion and implicitness. Lifshitz combines a depth of perspective with acute powers of observation that further lifts his tale way above the conventional coming-of-age film. He is thus able to evoke a quality of universality that makes incidental the fact that his lovers also happen to be gay. Amazingly, Lifshitz, who clearly inspires trust in his outstanding cast, accomplishes all this with consistent understatement and not a trace of pretentiousness.

Mathieu (Jeremie Elkaim) and Cedric (Stephane Rideau, of the memorable " Wild Reeds”) meet on a summer day at the beach near Nantes. Passionate and aggressive, Cedric makes his move on the quiet, reflective Mathieu, who never previously realized he might be gay. Cedric, whose father lives nearby, is a high school dropout who after three years of making waffles in a van at the beach is finally ready to commit himself to a course in computers in the fall.

At that time, Mathieu, who is from Paris. plans on entering a university to become an architect. He is staying for the summer at his parents’ spacious beach home, where his mother (Dominique Reymond) is attempting to recover from a traumatic ordeal (the nature of which is not immediately disclosed, as Lifshitz eschews exposition, to good effect). The linchpin of the household is the mother’s sister Annick (Marie Matheron), a warm, direct woman, who is at once nurse, cook and housekeeper. She gets little help from the self-absorbed Mathieu and his younger sister, Sarah (Laetitia Legrix), who is beginning to feel neglected as her brother becomes caught up in his first serious romance.

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Indeed, it is a triumph for Annick if she gets her niece, nephew and sister to the dinner table at the same time. Mathieu’s father, a businessman who travels a lot, has remained in Paris; Mathieu and Annick believe he’s evading his family responsibilities, but his wife staunchly defends her husband as too busy with work. Lifshitz captures beautifully the rhythms and moods of everyday family life in its shifts between thoughtfulness and tension.

The real drama of “Come Undone” begins as it nears conclusion, for that is when Mathieu must decide how serious is his romance with Cedric. Somewhat older than Mathieu, Cedric is more mature and experienced, less ambitious and possibly but not necessarily of lower social class. Cedric is ready for them to move in together and take menial jobs while they pursue their respective studies.

For Mathieu, the question becomes whether he’s ready to take on so much responsibility--and whether he’s willing to give Cedric’s proposal a try.

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Unrated. Times guidelines: brief explicit sex, some nudity, complex adult themes.

‘Come Undone’ (‘Presque Rien’)

Jeremie Elkaim: Mathieu

Stephane Rideau: Cedric

Marie Matheron: Annick

Dominique Reymond: The Mother

A Picture This! Entertainment release of a Lancelot Films and Man’s Films presentation in co-production with Arte France Cinema and RTBF. Director Sebastien Lifshitz. Producers Christian Tison, Marion Hnsel. Screenplay by Stephane Bouquet and Lifshitz. Cinematographer Pascal Poucet. Editor Yann Dedet. Music Perry Blake. Costumes Elisabeth Mehu. Production designer Roseanna Sacco. In French with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes.

Exclusively at Regent Showcase Theater, 614 N. La Brea Ave., L.A., (323) 934-1770; Art Theater, 2025 E. 4th St., Long Beach, (562) 438-5435; University 6, 4245 Campus Drive, Irvine, (949) 854-8811.

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