First love is a well-worn topic in the movies. Your average gay film is filled with stilted dialogue, gorgeous but otherwise talentless actors, and an all-too tidy conclusion where either one of the lovers dies or the two live happily ever after. It was with some reservations that I approached Come Undone. The box art alone features the two stunning leads in a state of undress, hardly showcasing the film’s intelligence and emotional insight. Still, as with books, Come Undone should not be judged by its cover; undoubtedly an attempt to live by the age-old adage “sex sells.” Instead, Come Undone is a raw and sometimes abrasive look at the irrationality and unpredictability of first love and one young man’s discovery of his sexuality.
Honestly, Come Undone is unlike many of the gay films I would secretly watch, alone in my basement when I was younger. But still, it managed to tap into that sense of youth. Come Undone showcases it all; the confusion, uncertainty, and even the passion of… trying to make sense of your feelings, both sexual and emotional. It’s a rarity that a film is able to channel that so eloquently and with such subtlety. So many films are caught up in their characters, as they should be, but there was never anything recognizable about the gay characters I saw in television and film. Come Undone is certainly a character study, but more than that, it’s an experience. The film engages on an emotional level, leaving the specifics of each character behind and giving way to the emotional isolation of discovering you’re gay and the unbridled passion of first love.
This is largely in part due to the understated and powerful performances by the two leads, Jérémie Elkaïm and Stéphane Rideau. Even when the film delves into some of the more stereotypical elements of the gay film, such as Mathieu’s attempted suicide, the film shows an uncommon restraint in giving the viewer too much. Instead, the passion and heartbreak are never outwardly stated, but shown on the character’s faces. While this may sound like a minor element, it is this kind of subtlety and emphasis on emotion that makes Come Undone such a unique film. Of course, the film’s score, including the haunting “Wise Man Blues” by Perry Blake, help to convey the romanticism and devastation that accompanies any great love story, particularly first love.
Come Undone is the kind of love story that, although the details may have changed, every one of us has gone through. The harsh juxtaposition between the excitement and passion of when it first begins to the heartbreak of when it, inevitably, comes to an end are so expertly crafted. While the pacing may be slow to some, Come Undone effectively forces its viewers to feel for its characters in a stunning display of emotional masochism. Come Undone is certainly not a casual movie-watching experience for this reason, but that doesn’t make it any less of a vital film experience. Come Undone’s exploration of first love between two gay men is at times heartbreaking and other times hopeful, somehow unique and deeply relatable, creating a perfect storm of emotions that will stay with you long after the film’s end.
Come Undone is available on DVD from First Run Features.