Presque rien [Come Undone / Almost Nothing] - dir. Sébastien Lifshitz
Few films have succeeded in capturing what Sébastien Lifshitz's feature debut Presque rien (literally Almost Nothing, re-titled Come Undone in the U.S.) accomplishes in capturing clinical depression in all its ambiguousness. To grasp what Lifshitz captures can be a challenging endeavor, one which alluded me in early viewings of the film. Presque rien is not, by any means, a romantic summer love story between a pair of good-looking, scantilly-clad teenage boys, Mathieu (Jérémie Elkaïm) and Cédric (Stéphane Rideau), nor is it a love story at all. The central romance is fueled by displaced emotions and void-fillers for both boys. It's alienation, and not of the obvious gay breed, that brings them together and, ultimately, places them further way from what they truly yearn for. This is Presque rien's greatest deception.
Weaving three periods of Mathieu's life alongside one another, his disorder becomes apparent quickly, aligning his failed suicide attempt with the earliest moments of his fateful summer vacation. The vacation itself is just as facetious as the boys' romance. Instead of a typical relaxing holiday, the vacation for Mathieu and his irritable sister (Laetitia Legrix) is just a guise for getting their ailing mother (Dominique Reymond) away from Paris (and perhaps from her absent husband as well). Through the mother's suffering, an unnamable malady that sprung after she gave birth to a child riddled with cancer, the genetic disposition for Mathieu's depression is drawn out. He claims to not truly understand his mother's illness when mentioning it to Cédric, but a shot of Mathieu crying on the balcony suggests otherwise. His tears may come from the neglect that has resulted in his mother's condition, or more likely because he knows all-too-well what she's going through.
Lifshitz's construction of Presque rien evades the narrative details of what leads Mathieu to attempt suicide, but his deterioration seeps through the carefully selected moments during that summer. He consistently fools himself in his relationship with Cédric, as Lifshitz never gives them common ground to justify their affair as being anything more than a distraction from their own longing. With the summer hours passing, Mathieu loses the spark in their relationship, as Cédric's past flings start to present themselves and as his sex drive begins to diminish.
All of Presque rien's narrative answers happen offscreen, leaving the audience with the aftermath. Suggestions to what drove the final wedge between the boys are given, but in the same way Mathieu attributes his mother's illness with the death of her baby son, this only provides the basest of reasoning for Mathieu's state of mind. Cédric admits a lapse in fidelity, which may or may not have been what pushed Mathieu to try to kill himself, but that could only been seen as the superficial catalyst. His sense of hopelessness was briefly diluted by his summer fling, but his inability to curb his depression with Cédric opened the void even further.
In many ways, Presque rien is the unmasking of fantasies. Its depiction of first love, depression and suicide are unglamorous and rid of inevitably sour nostalgia. Even for its characters, their attempts at evading truths about themselves foil in the end. Lifshitz, whom I've called the most criminally overlooked (or under-appreciated) filmmaker of the past decade, paints an unforgettable portrait of mental disorder, one that effectively gives no easy resolution. Presque rien is one of the few shining examples of astute post-New Queer Cinema film art and, without a doubt in my mind, one of the finest films of the past ten years.
With: Jérémie Elkaïm, Stéphane Rideau, Dominique Reymond, Marie Matheron, Laetitia Legrix, Nils Ohlund, Réjane Kerdaffrec, Guy Houssier
Screenplay: Stéphane Bouquet, Sébastien Lifshitz
Cinematography: Pascal Poucet
Music: Perry Blake
Country of Origin: France/Belgium
US Distributor: Picture This!
Premiere: 7 June 2000 (France)
US Premiere: October 2000 (Chicago International Film Festival)