Gay cinema has had its fair share of coming-out films. But Didier Bivel’s motion picture proves that there is much more left to explore when it comes to generic LGBT themes and that there is room for unique and brilliant storytelling in each of these common queer tropes. Hidden Kisses (Baisers cachés) takes the viewer into a world monopolized by homophobic people whose vitriol and downplayed hatred might not seem representative of today’s society. But the film’s strong suit is precisely its ability to spur empathy for those who suffer from the damaging and long-lasting effects of bigotry.
Nathan (Bérenger Anceaux) is a gay sixteen year-old student who meets and kisses a young boy named Louis (Jules Houplain) at a party. The two are still in the closet, but not for long after a compromising photo of their rendezvous is shared all over social media. Bullied, teased and degraded for his sexuality, Nathan tries to stand up for himself. But the lack of support is evident and impactful, as even his own father seems perplexed or even angry with him because of his orientation. Although the young man only receives some positive attention from his math teacher, Catherine (Catherine Jacob), and eventually his father, Stéphane (Patrick Timsit), he is comfortable with who he is and wants to help Louis to feel the same level of peace and confidence. Unfortunately, Louis’ father, Bruno (Bruno Putzulu) is a respected physician with a passion for boxing who thinks being homosexual is a choice and worse than being diseased. Although Nathan’s father puts in effort to understand his son and accept him, Louis is constantly castigated, marginalized and abused by his family, leading him to consider ending his life.
With LGBT rights being more welcomed or acknowledged in first-world countries, certain scenes of Bivel’s film might seem out of place, slightly exaggerated or even farfetched. For instance, the viewer might find it hard to believe that a mature, well-established professor would dread and fear coming out as much as Catherine’s character does. Similarly, the scenes in which the entire school gossips, berates and downright bullies Nathan over a picture shared on social media may seem implausible. Bruno’s extreme, but constantly excused homophobia can also be hard to stomach, but considered a thing of the past; surely not the conduct of an educated, licensed doctor in the year of 2016. However, it is important to recognize that all of these scenes were not included in the script merely for dramatic effect. Not so long ago, the bullying and abuse portrayed in Hidden Kisses (Baisers cachés) were a reality for LGBT people from all around the world. And unfortunately, this is still the case for small communities. Bivel sheds light on these issues, as well as on the fact that, despite progress being made in recent years, homophobia is still rampant and not nearly as subtle or underhanded as one might expect.
The performances are surprisingly realistic and engaging. Although the script is at times predictable and the acting could have easily been over the top, the heartwarming and stunning performances of the film’s cast consistently reinforce a genuine feel and keep the movie from turning into melodrama or cliché. The ending is abrupt and unexpected, but accurately depicts the bittersweet truth that not everyone is accepting, but those who are can help ease the pain of rejection. However, the film does end on a fairly positive note after Louis’ mother finally stands up to her husband and takes her son away from a clearly abusive environment.
Hidden Kisses (Baisers cachés) manages to cover important topics like bullying, isolation, suicide, young love and abuse within families in a manner which truly immerses the viewer in the story world and allows them to empathise with the struggles of both the main and secondary characters. Bivel also offers us a remarkably accurate portrayal of emotional abuse and how it operates under society’s radar. It is almost shocking to witness how blatant domestic violence or bullying can be minimized or willfully ignored by otherwise good, decent people. The drama film is an essential and riveting reminder of the devastating effects of deep-rooted bigotry, as well as a heartfelt, tear-jerking tribute to those who deal with abuse in their own home and from society as a whole.