The same black-and-blue realism that made French director Patrice Chereau's romance INTIMACY (2001) such a memorable, if gloomy, experience is once again evident in this moody adaptation of Philippe Besson's novel. Two estranged brothers, one straight, the other gay, are forced to reconcile their differences when one falls seriously ill. But it's not exactly what you think: This time it isn't the gay character who's slowly shedding his mortal coil in a series of agonizing tableaux, but his heterosexual brother. Years have slipped past since Luc (Eric Caravaca) and Thomas (Bruno Todeschini) last saw each other. Luc, now a schoolteacher, has always suspected that Thomas couldn't handle the fact that Luc is gay, but the truth runs deeper than that: Thomas left home when Luc, a confused teenager, needed him most. That abandonment still stings, but their relationship enters an wholly unexpected phase the night Thomas shows up on Luc's doorstep, sweaty, disoriented and bearing terrible news. He has contracted some mysterious, quite possibly fatal, disease that robs his bloodstream of platelets; the terrified Thomas is now turning to his baby brother for help. Luc agrees to accompany Thomas to the hospital where he's scheduled to begin cortisone treatments the following day, but he's wary about getting too close to the self-centered Thomas and tries to sublimate his fraternal instincts. Despite the anger and resentment they've allowed to build over the years, Luc and Thomas are unmistakably brothers and even share the same inability to commit themselves to their respective significant others. Luc can't bring himself to admit that his lover, Vincent (Sylvain Jacques), is more than a friend, while Thomas won't marry his girlfriend, Claire (Nathalie Boutefeu), who isn't sure she has the wherewithal to stick around while Thomas undergoes one grueling procedure after another, edging ever closer to death. The film would be unbearable if it weren't for Chereau's rare skill with characterization, which makes the interactions between these two men fascinating to watch. The fact that Todeschini and Caravaca are both superb is a bonus. And while the film is haunted by lyrical images of death the film opens with portentous talk of ferries, shipwrecks and drowned sailors there's no romanticized slipping behind the veil of death here. Chereau boldly risks alienating his audience by presenting serious illness and all its attendant indignities with an unflinching clarity that's becoming a hallmark of his work.
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