Okay, so this one is definitely not on Netflix (it is on YouTube though!) But I watched the DVD last weekend with some friends and I just had to find a way to process this clusterfuck of a movie. So here we go.
Oh, and just to clarify, it’s not about incest
Donne-moi la main, English translation: Give Me Your Hand, (Pascal-Alex Vincent, 2008) is a French-language film about a twin brothers’ journey across Europe. As they travel to the funeral of a mother they’ve never met, Antoine and Quentin confront their complicated sibling relationship, as well as perceptions of their own and each other’s desires.
The concept is there. We’ve got a strong central relationship and a definitive motivation: it’s your classic travel movie narrative, right? Think Y Tu Mamá También (Alfonso Cuarón, 2001) but (purportedly) gayer. So where does it go wrong?
Top Tip: be warned, there is a fair amount of str*ight sex in this film
To start, the composition of sequences in this film is, in a word, bizarre. The camera cuts quickly between scenes and landscapes, and the journey seems incongruent and confusing at times. This extends also to the brother’s relationship: they fight, they fall out; and yet in the next scene they are close again. Certain motivations for arguments are obvious, but often tension is left unexplained, and we are left at the end of the film with no pay-off. This all may be an attempt to convey the tautness of close sibling relationships, but more often than not it just made for a rather confused viewing.
To give credit where credit is due, a lot of the cinematography is visually stunning.
The stylisation varies greatly, adding a lot of visual interest to keep you entertained. Exploring many different hues, from oranges to blues to pinks, we move through farmland, fields and rivers. And each highly characterised section of the storyboard brings us another mood: from anger and betrayal; to exhaustion and resentment; to playfulness and flirtation. And it would be remiss of me on Every Gay Movie (increasingly not on Netflix, it seems) not to analyse the gay sex scene now, wouldn’t it?
Antoine is working at a farm trying to earn money for a train ticket when he meets Hakim, a fellow labourer. Soon they are wild swimming, in what we know by now is a trope synonymous with queer sexual awakening (see also: The Half of It). They splash about naked in the water, exploring their playfulness with each other freely under the cover of night. As Quentin runs out of the water and lays down, Hakim follows and hovers above him. Rather than the expected kiss, Hakim spits gently into his mouth in an intimate sharing of bodily fluids that ー as you might not expect ー comes off as deeply erotic and emotive. A few shots later, they lie down together and smoke, adding to the rebellion and tabou, in which they relish in partaking.
The whole scene is bathed in a beautiful midnight blue, which, along with the reflective flow of the river, brings a sense of peace, tranquility and romance. This is especially true towards the end of the scene, when they make love standing up, Quentin holding on to the branches of a tree and allowing himself and his body to be vulnerable and exposed to Hakim against the moonlight.
Biggest Gay Mood: eating ass by a river
The soundtrack really thrives in this scene, enhancing the frisky nature of the scene early on and then retreating to allow us to hear them breathing against one another. An original score by German duo Tarwater, the whole album is worth listening to. The ambient instrumentals evoke the nature through which the boys wonder and create a sensual atmospheric backdrop.
While he is exploring his sexuality with Hakim, little does Quentin know that his brother is looking for him, subsequently watching the action unfold through the trees. Antoine’s search for his brother interrupts the flow, and we see less than two minutes of Quentin and Hakim together in this sequence. Antoine leaves the next day, and Quentin feels compelled to follow, cutting any prospect of a relationship short and effectively closing off perhaps the most promising narrative of the whole film.
The central thread of Donne-moi la main seems to be based around Antoine’s unacceptance of his brother’s queer sexual exploration, and so of course this narrative choice is a valid exploration of Antoine’s homophobia. But that doesn’t make watching it any less frustrating.
A lot of side characters ー I might even say all of them ー were severely underdeveloped. When you spend over an hour watching teenage twin boys sulking at each other, extra characters offer a hope of relief. And while there are some charming moments, the journey always pushes forward, and the more interesting characters and sub-plots are left behind. While the film’s format inherently calls for an end goal, it is a superficial one: of course they’re going to make it to the funeral in Spain, the whole movie is leading up to it. But where is the emotional character arc? Where is the resolution? Oh right, we didn’t even build up to one in the first place.
All of this is only amplified by a distinct lack of dialogue. Normally this leaves room for subtext, but with the lack of context too, all you are left with is… confusion? Anxiety? And time to ponder whether these twins actually want to fuck each other. (Sorry.)
Scattered throughout the film are moments of tension which hint at the very least at sexual curiosity between the two brothers. They play with and twist each other’s sexaulities, their push and pull playing on conventional romantic tropes. As I mentioned, they sneakily watch each other have sex (more than just that one time). In one shot, Antoine is washing himself naked in a river, and Quentin can’t help but sneak glances up at his brother, who doesn’t seem to object. They are physically close for a lot of the film, and while that wouldn’t seem uncharacteristic for siblings, the added moments of quasi-sexual tension put this closeness under a disturbing scrutiny.
The final sequence of the Donne-moi la main is bathed in a soft pink haze. Just like many of the scenes in the film, the only characters we see are the two brothers. They are sat on a beach, and one shot in particular brings home the thread of incestuous (I suppose I should say ‘twincestuous’) desire. The camera angle brings their lips together, and the length of this shot makes it feel deliberate.
I’ll say it again: a bizarre and confusing choice.
Overall, the film has some merits. The cinematography and soundtrack are both wonderful, sometimes enough so as to distract from the incongruous storyline and unnecessarily disturbing sexual tension between the brothers.
However, beauty can only go so far in masking such a fatally flawed narrative.