By Rada Pavlova
On Tuesday, October 23rd, the recently established French Film Club had its first movie screening in the Loria Center, presenting one of the two main themes it aims to explore this term – “Le parti d’en rire” (“We’d Rather Laugh About It”). “Me, Myself and Mum” is an autobiographical comedy written, directed, and starring Guillaume Gallienne. Gallienne is a French actor, screenwriter and film director who made his first debut in 1992 with the movie Tableau d’honneur. In his early life, he was bullied for his manifestation of manners and traits which would usually be associated with women and was then sent to a boarding school in England. In the course of the movie “Me, Myself, and I”, while performing on stage, Guillaume recounts his experience as a young boy who aspired to be like his mother – tender, strong, and assertive. For him, she was flawless. The movie tells the story of Gallienne’s long, and at once funny and painful journey to discovering self-identity and sexual orientation. In this coming of age comedy, gender stereotypes are redefined to show how sexuality and gender identity cannot be given a number or a simple percentage; they cannot be put on a scale. At the end of the day, all that matters is one’s own feelings, and what is true today might end up being wrong tomorrow. Thus, no matter what labels people try to assign, they all have an expiration date.
The original name of the movie in French “Les garçons et Guillaume – à table!” depicts the way in which Guillaume’s mother would call her sons for dinner. The distinction between “les garcons” (the boys) and Guillaume is a clear representation of the parents’ shared view that the young boy does not fit the “characteristics” of the male gender. Guillaume’s childhood was troubled by the constant pursuit of finding who he truly is today, but what makes his story so unique is the fact that no matter how hard he tried to unleash his supposed homosexuality, he kept losing trace of it. From receiving an enema by a Bavarian spa woman to unwillingly attending a supposed gay orgy, he drives himself through many extremes along the way of self-discovery. The grande finale of the film shows Guillaume’s “coming out” in front of his mother when he proves her wrong by finding love in the face of a woman and deciding to marry her. All of Guillaume’s life, he has been looking for a label that will perfectly fit him, only to find out there is no such; no person can be described by a single word. The movie aims to show how one’s appreciation for femininity does not illustrate desire to acquire such, but rather the desire to understand the complexity of the woman character. The irony is that no one tries to understand the complexity of Guillaume’s character, but everyone seems to rather simplify it by putting it into the frame of a single word.
In addition to exploring the topic of identity, the movie also puts forward the issue of family relations by closely examining the relationship between mother and son. Guillaume Gallienne decides to play the role of both himself and his mother for which he dresses in a drag costume. In an interview for The Guardian, the comedian shares how his mom and her tender character has always served as his inspiration and role model. The internal conflict Guillaume goes through in his early childhood, however, is a direct reflection of the one present within his dysfunctional family. With a mother insisting on his homosexuality and a father refusing to accept his more feminine behavior, none of his choices or paths ever received their full support. Why Guillaume found it so hard to make out his true identity must have been because there was no favorable option modeled or presented for him. His mother, while supporting his effeminate personality, insisted on his homosexuality, while his father was extremely judgmental, to say the least. In either case, he would have to live with a parent’s disapproval, which no child wishes for.
“Me, Myself and Mum” was released on November 20th, 2013, the same year the French government passed a bill to legalise same-sex marriages and gay adoption. Earlier in May, Paris was marked by massive protests against the newly accepted law. Hundreds of thousands of people marched on the streets, arguing that this decision would affect the fate of children and redefine the concept of families. One of the most radical acts that Parisians witnessed at the time was the suicide of a far-right historian, Dominique Venner, who put his condemnation of same-sex marriage in writing before shooting himself on the Notre Dame altar in front of a 1500 person crowd. The primary goal of his act, he said, was to “wake up the people of France” which later on received support from many of the far-right leaders.
Guillaume’s account of his personal experience and struggle with gender identity and sexual orientation provides us with a human side of the argument. By focusing on the hardships an individual can experience in search of his true self, he shows the complexity of human nature and posits the idea that identity is not a product of rationality but rather one of emotions. It is what it is, and all one can do is to accept it.
Rada is a first-year in Pauli Murray. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.