Based on the novel by Philippe Besson, Lie with Me is a passionate, delectable queer drama that blends coming-of-age romance with poignant messaging about adulthood. Paramount at the center of its two converging timelines are themes of love and longing. A rich script penned by writer/director Olivier Peyon weaves a poignant longing and rich characterizations against the backdrop of a stunning French countryside. The resulting concoction will make Lie with Me simply irresistible to lovers of queer cinema.
The simplicity of the title alone should clue the viewer in on what to anticipate—Lie with Me finds two teens from different walks of life becoming irresistibly drawn to one another. Bookish bespectacled blonde Stéphane (Jérémy Gillet) cannot seem to stop staring at the alluring, mysterious Thomas (Julien De Saint Jean). Thomas rides a motorbike around everywhere, and seems to be a major draw to the local girls. To Stéphane’s surprise, Thomas slips him a piece of paper in the bathroom. “Come alone,” he urges, his plea a quiet whisper that lays his true intentions quite bare. Their first sexual encounter is lustful and brief. In order to continue seeing one another, Stéphane must keep their relationship entirely secret. How long can Stéphane be with literally living a lie?
This is not just an easy love story: Lie with Me ripples with complexities. At the same time we view young Stéphane and Thomas first finding one another, adult Stéphane (Guillaume de Tonquédec), now an acclaimed author, is returning to his hometown of Cognac for the first time in thirty-five years. Stéphane has been asked to be a brand ambassador to celebrate an iconic cognac’s bicentennial. After a reading for his newest short story, Stéphane realizes he is signing a book for the son of his old flame, Thomas. Lucas (Victor Belmondo) resembles Thomas on a physical level, so it comes as no surprise that his appearance reawakens a flood of buried emotions for Stéphane. Tonquédec juggles the heartache and flurry of feelings that Stéphane must experience. His journey and subsequent friendship with Lucas are fascinating to watch unfold.
Flashbacks are utilized to a highly effective degree—as is the case for many films of this ilk, Lie with Me sees more success in its depiction of young love than it does as we try to follow a much-older Stéphane. The coming-of-age genre is well-worn for a reason. Chemistry between Gillet and De Saint Jean as they explore one another’s bodies or dance together foolishly remains built entirely upon natural intimacy and genuine love. As the film approaches its denouement, Lie With Me delivers a knockout by way of its poignancy. A sucker punch of tragedy and deep sadness hit me like a ton of bricks.
Personally, I could relate to Stéphane more than Thomas: always desiring to live authentically. A sad truth is that so many LGBTQIA+ people still live in shame or fear that if they come out of the closet, their lives can potentially change for the worse. Lucas compares living this way to being a coward—it is so sad that even in the year 2023, we still have a long ways to go before queer love is accepted as being a normal way of life. Lie With Me joins the great company of other queer classics, but its unique story structure and focus on that little four-letter word definitely set it apart from the pack.
Lie With Me is screened at the London BFI Flare LGBTQIA+ Film Festival. Look out for it on DVD and Video On Demand later this Fall.