Film Review: Lie with Me


Promoting his latest work, a successful writer returns to his hometown and the site of his first love. Olivier Peyon’s sixth feature is a bittersweet bildungsroman told in reverse; a study of identity reconciled too late. In examining the reflexive, redemptive power of fiction, Lie with Me is a moving story of love lost to time.

Renowned author Stéphane Belcourt (Guillaume de Tonquédec) has returned to his hometown of Cognac to promote his latest short story, in which it heavily features. Capitalising on the marketing opportunity, the cognac distillery has recruited Stéphane on his campaign, despite the fact that he is teetotal. Stéphane, however, is struggling to keep his mind on the job, distracted by the memories that his return has surfaced. Specifically, that of his intense secret relationship at the age of seventeen, thirty-five years ago.

Flashing back to 1984, a nerdy introverted young Stéphane (Jérémy Gillet), is approached by a moody, dangerous Thomas (Julien De Saint Jean), who tells him in no uncertain terms that their affair must be kept hidden. In 2022, at a book signing, a young man – Lucas – (Victor Belmondo) approaches Stéphane, mentioning that he is Thomas’ son, and that Thomas died the year before. Hiding the nature of their relationship, Stéphane develops a quasi-friendship with Lucas, learning that he grew up in Spain, returning to Cognac with his parents, before Thomas left them suddenly.

Cinematographer Martin Rit’s use of long lenses in close up not only emphasise his human subjects, but also the emotional, and erotic and romantic intensity between them; the world unfocusses and melts away as Stéphane and Thomas turn inward to each other. Elsewhere, wide shots of turquoise pools and green forests seem to swallow them up in passing eternity, like photographs that forever capture fleeting moments, emphasising the unfairly transitory nature of their affair.

Lie with Me’s flashback structure brings out the melancholy inevitability to Stéphane and Thomas’ doomed romance; trapped by his circumstance, Thomas knows he will never leave Cognac, and there is great dramatic irony, too, in knowing that he is trapped in time. After his family take him to Spain, neither we nor Stéphane never see him again: in a sense he never escapes that moment in 1984, preserved forever in Stéphane’s memory and old photographs.

There is a fairly obvious double meaning to the Lie with Me’s title, emphasised with Stéphane’s ambivalence around his own fiction’s relationship with the truth. Stéphane outwardly claims that he never draws from his own life in his writing, yet his latest work is based on his hometown, and it is obvious to Lucas that his father appears as a figure throughout his writing. So while Stéphane tells the truth about himself through fiction, that Thomas was never able to live truthfully as himself finally destroys him. Yet in what fragments that remain there is perhaps something left of his true self and of a redemption that comes too late.

Christopher Machell