Some will probably call Sebastian Lifshitz’s new film, yet another story about the coming out of a gay adolescent, sensitive and pointed; but such an judgment will be based more on wishful thinking than on reality. “Come Undone” is actually a grey, sullen treatment of an increasingly hackneyed subject, marked by opaque characterizations and a fractured, disjointed narrative style that’s obviously meant to be artistic but merely seems affected. It will undoubtedly be compared to Andre Techine’s 1994 “Wild Reeds,” but that was a far superior film–better written, directed and acted, and richer in terms of its context and overall effect.
The protagonist is Mathieu (Jeremie Elkaim), a gawky, blank-faced youngster whose sexual inclinations are provoked by a local youth named Cedric (Stephane Rideau) during a seaside summer in Brittany. Mathieu is surrounded by females, each of whom has her own difficulties: his mother (Dominique Reymond) is a physical and emotional wreck, suffering from a depression that’s never fully explained, his sister Sarah (Laetitia Legrix) reacts nastily to his dalliance with Credric, and Annick (Marie Matherson), the family caretaker (perhaps an aunt, it’s never really made clear), is touchy and increasingly unable to cope with her responsibilities. (The youngsters’ father is absent and, it would seem, incapable of coming to terms with his wife’s condition.) Mathieu and Cedric frolic on the beach and get closer and closer. But interrupting this narrative are periodic scenes showing a gaunter, even emaciated Mathieu undergoing medical and psychological tests (the result of an apparently suicidal depression of his own) and eventually going off to live in rustic isolation, unwilling to have further contact with Cedric and eventually linking up with one of his former lover’s old romances. The precise connection between the two “halves” of the film, as it were, is never fully clarified, at least not insofar as this viewer is concerned; whether Mathieu’s decision to split from Cedric resulted from some disagreement between them, or just from the former’s innate angst, remains ambiguous. Perhaps if Lifshitz and his co-writer Stephane Bouquet hadn’t elected to tell their story in so carelessly disjointed and shapeless a form, the motivations would be obvious; but the affected toying with time renders them simply obscure.
The cast doesn’t contribute much. Elkaim casts a pale figure as Mathieu; it’s difficult to work up a great deal of sympathy for a fellow who’s gloomy and withdrawn even when he’s supposed to be happy. Rideau is better as Cedric, if only because the character is more open and simple. Of the women, Legrix is sullen and snarly as Sarah, while Matheron makes Annick both irritable and irritating. Reymond convincingly–perhaps too convincingly–conveys the mother’s unhappiness.
There is one likable character in “Come Undone”–a stray grey cat that Mathieu befriends during his rustic escape. The feline isn’t significantly less communicative than the human characters, and it shows a charming side they very much lack in its two big scenes–one in which it munches pasta out of the same bowl as its new owner, and another in which it submits to a bathing with surprising docility. Perhaps if the whole film were about the animal, it might be enjoyable. In its present state, it’s neither very good nor particularly insightful.