Ma Vie En Rose

Close to home
★★★
☆
Released: 
1997
Director: 
Alain Berliner
Starring: 
Georges Du Fresne, Michèle Laroque, Jean-Philippe Écoffey, Hélène Vincent, Daniel Hanssens
The Setup: 
Boy can’t get over the idea that he’s a girl.
Discussion: 

I had seen this years ago, when it came out, and was eager to see it again, as I am suddenly on a gay movie kick. I remember liking it very much the first time, and a tiny bit less well this time.

The title is a play on the classic French song “La Vie en Rose,” which means “the life in pink,” which means that she sees the world through a rosy tint, which is probably falsely rosy. PLEASE do not go through life without hearing the sublime Grace Jones disco version. I have an amusing story about the Grace Jones version. A friend of mine who was around in NYC during the disco years thought, at the end, when she’s screaming “La vie en rose!” over and over, thought she was actually screaming “Put ME on hold?! Put ME on hold?!” Which cracks me up. Oh yeah, the movie. Well, the title of this movie would them be “MY Life in Pink,” with the slight difference in perspective that the title implies, while still maintaining an air of this fantasy way of looking at the world.

The movie begins at a family party [we’re in a French suburb]. Ludovic’s family has just moved into this neighborhood, and are living right across the street from Ludovic’s dad’s boss. Ludovic, who has wide brown eyes and longish hair, comes down to the party dressed in his sister’s “princess” dress, heels and make-up, because he said he wanted to look pretty. They take him inside and make him change, and his Grandmother [referred to throughout as “Granny,”] tells him we wanted to look “not pretty. Handsome.” Granny, who I think is the mother’s mother, is greeted by her son-in-law when she arrives, and promptly begins making cracks about how he drinks too much and they’re a little tacky. He responds “You don’t have to visit us, Granny.” As the party goes on into the evening, we see Granny smoking weed, and changing the music to disco, which she then dances to. There is a good series of shots where we see Ludovic hugged between his adoring mother and grandmother as they dance.

Ludovic is obsessed with Pam, this Barbie-type doll with a TV show. He brings his Pam and Ben [the Ken-type] dolls to school for show and tell. His teacher says “You want to be like Ben, right?” You can see Ludovic subtly shake his head no just after that [all the kids here are almost shockingly good]. When Granny picks him up from school, he says that he’s going to marry Jerome [the class hunk and son of Ludociv’s dad’s boss] when he is no longer a boy. Granny looks at him and says “You have a lot to teach me.” I admired this response, as it doesn’t cut him off from talking, without her lying to him and agreeing that he will one day become a girl.

We then see the TV show “The World of Pam,” starting, where Pam is shown as a live woman in a fake Barbie-like world. Ludovic is caught dancing in the living room by Granny, who just starts in dancing with him. We find out that the father of her daughter did not marry her, as he was already married. She is primarily concerned with wishing that she were young and beautiful again. She tells Ludovic that when she wants the world to be as she wants it, she just closes her eyes and enters a fantasy world. Ludovic tries this too, and we soon see him dressed as a girl in Pam’s world.

One day the wife of Dad’s boss is hemming a dress for Ludovic’s mom, and we find out that she regards his mom as a tad bit slutty. Mom thinks there’s nothing wrong with dressing the way men like. While this is going on, Ludovic and Jerome are in the other room getting married as Pam and Ben. Jerome’s mother sees this, and faints. Then we find out that Ludovic was wearing a dress that belonged to Jerome’s sister—who’s dead. Oops!

They decide to take Ludovic to a psychologist, and the father announces this to his boss, and all the other boys hear. At the psychologist it is revealed that the parents wanted a girl. Ludovic then tries to be a boy for a while. The parents have a barbecue, where Ludovic overhears them talking about him in all sorts of ways that makes it seem that his situation is a huge disgrace.

His sister tells him that she learned in school about how chromosomes determine whether you’re a boy or a girl. Ludovic has a dream in which he sees God’s hand throw two X’s and a Y down toward his house, but one X hits the chimney and falls into the garbage. When he wakes, he starts telling people that he is a ‘girlboy,’ and that one day God will realize his mistake and make him a full girl.

SPOILERS > > >
Things continue to get worse. Ludovic locks a girl in a closet and takes her place as Snow White in the school play, where his presence is revealed to the entire town. Since he locked the girl in, I was like “All right! He’s going to start to get aggressive!” but it wasn’t really meant to be. The parents are mortified, the town is all skeeved out, and his parents start turning on each other. Ludovic gets kicked out of school. He gets beat up by the other kids. His dad is fired. “Bent Boys Out” is spray-painted on the garage. Eventually they move. During this time, his mother has wasted no opportunity to let Ludovic know that all of this is his fault.

Once they’ve moved, Ludovic meets a girl, Christine, who seems to want to be a boy. He gets in trouble one more time, and runs off. His mother sees a billboard for “The World of Pam,” and climbs it. She has a vision that she sees into Pam’s world where Ludovic is, and he wants to leave her and run away with Pam. She tries to enter Pam’s world, but as she does he falls though the ground and vanishes. When she wakes she apologizes to Ludovic, and says that no matter what he does, he is always her son. Ludovic offers to change his clothes, but his father tells him to wear what he’s most comfortable in. The end.
< < < SPOILERS END

It was very good. All of the actors are excellent, but the kids are really superb. They don’t have any of that self-consciousness that most kid actors have, and Ludovic seems to genuinely not understand that he isn’t a girl. I really liked the way the film presented him as entering into this fantasy world, and his magical explanations for the way things ended up. It’s also good about the psychology of the parents, and they both have moments when they’re harder on him, then settle down, which seems realistic. I also liked the little luminous details about his parents and upbringing [he is coddled by his mother and grandmother, his parents wanted a girl, his Granny is obsessed with being a young, pretty girl] that give hints of why things may have turned out as they did, without ever pointing and saying “THIS is the reason!” The whole thing, especially toward the beginning, can be very raw and painful for a gay person, as it is so emotionally accurate and sharply conceived.

My only complaint, which I didn’t have the first time I saw it, is that after a while there’s not much happening except the social situation getting worse and worse, and I started feeling like the film was padding out its running time. No one ever sits down to explain the truth about chromosomes to Ludovic, and no one ever explains to him that regardless of how he feels about his own gender, the vast majority of other people will see it in a different way, and so he may just have to decide how to manage the situation. And I began to feel that the reason no one is explaining these things to him is that if they did, the movie would be about a half hour shorter, and the writers wouldn’t be able to think of anywhere to go. So I did start to feel a bit on the jerked-around side.

But overall it is very well-done, and presented free of the ‘desperate plea for tolerance’ tone that makes so many other movies about being gay or cross-dressing [or any minority, really] so eye-roll inducing. Given all that, a little padding in the running time is a very minor infraction.

Should you watch it: 

Yes, especially if you’re gay or just interested in gender issues.