Directed by Andre Techine
Starring Pierre Deladonchamps, Celine Sallette, Gregoire Leprince-Ringuet & Michel Fau
Showing as part of the nation-wide Alliance Francaise Film Festival
This is a gender-bending true story of how a French man fled World War I trenches and — at the urging of his wife — survived in hiding by passing as a woman.
However, when Paul Grappe becomes Suzanne to escape the law, he quickly slips into nocturnal bisexual sex work in the Bois de Boulonge, a huge Parisian park.
Grappe became quite a Parisian celebrity when his story became a cabaret act after the authorities granted a general amnesty to deserters in the 1920s. Weaving the music hall into the narrative enlivens the film.
There is so much — from sex work to group sex and homosexuality — that refreshingly goes on without comment in this film that I could not help but contrast French cinematic storytelling with the standard Hollywood style.
That said, there are also gaps in the narrative. Most tellingly, how did Paul Grappe initially resist transvestitism and then seemingly in one night merrily start working the Bois de Bolonge? The whole tangle of identity, gender and love feels unresolved at the end.
In French the title of this film could be read as “Our Mad Years” or “Our Roaring Twenties”. Either of those translations would probably better contextualise the story.