Filmmaker Gaël Lépingle continues his exploration of provincial French towns, and their LGBTQ+ inhabitents with his latest film ‘Smalltown Boys’. Taking the form of three intertwining stories, the film explores the realities of small-town life for those that decided to stay and those that decide to leave and pursue their dreams in the big city. During the film we meet bar owner Youcef (Yves Batek Mendy), a fearless boy who wanders the streets in high heels, and Jonas (Léo Pochat), a vaudeville performer who finds himself in an unexpected situation.
One of the issues ‘Smalltown Boys’ has is that it doesn’t spend enough time with its first two stories meaning that the impact they make on the viewer is fairly limited. The first story finds Youcef question his life decisions when Jonas and a troupe of vaudeville performers arrive at his bar for a performance. Realising he may have cashed his chips far too early, Youcef wonders if his decision to lead a small-town life has cut off his aspirations and potential. It’s a universal question that many people who stick in their hometown feels at some point.
In the second story, a boy wanders the streets of his small-town in heels, waiting for the time that he can leave. For the boy his ultimate goal, and escape route, is university but until then he’s happy to push the boundaries of the town to ensure he doesn’t compromise on being his true self. This story explores the isolation and loneliness that gay people can feel when they’re in a town where they don’t often, if ever, see representation they can identify with.
The same is not true of the third story, which gets room to breathe and as a result ends up being the strongest of the three. In that story Jonas arrives at the home of an older man Mathieu (Serge Renko), who is a photographer and teacher, for a photoshoot. It soon transpires that the meeting is more than a simple photoshoot with Jonas opening himself up sexually to the man he’s just met. An uncomfortable push-and-pull ensues with Jonas learning more about Mathieu than he expects and processing that information leads Jonas to question the situation he’s put himself in.
The cast of ‘Smalltown Boys’ does a great job. Léo Pochat in particular gives a standout performance as Jonas and he’s got an easy magnetism that ensures that when he’s on camera, you’re solely focused on him. He benefits from having the most fleshed out character in the film but he manages to strike the right balance between fearless and measured.
‘Smalltown Boys’ is an engaging and interesting watch, even if it is a little too uneven and not always fully cohesive. Through these three stories, Lépingle explores some pertinent themes and there’s plenty here to make the viewer think. Perhaps had the run time but just that bit longer and the first two stories given a little more room to breathe, the film would have been stronger.
Cast: Léo Pochat, Serge Renko, Yves Batek Mendy, Edouard Prévot, Thibaud Poursier Director: Gaël Lépingle Writers: Michaël Dacheux & Gaël Lépingle Certificate: 18 Duration: 84 mins Released by: NQV Media Release date: 31st July 2023 Buy ‘Smalltown Boys’ now
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