Les Invisibles

Les Invisibles


Reviewed by: Michael Pattison

“Everything is normal, or nothing is,” says one of the 11 subjects interviewed at length in Sébastien Lifshitz’s documentary, Les Invisibles. The remark encapsulates the film as a whole, as it’s a simple and tender account of a group of French septuagenarians and octogenarians who identify as gay, lesbian and/or bisexual, and of their respective paths to sexual liberation and prolonged happiness. If any sexual orientation can be viewed as abnormal, so the implication goes, all others must be deemed likewise.

Though sexual preference is an inalienable human right, it is only in comparatively recent years that homosexuality has come to be seen in legally and socially acceptable terms. Lifshitz’s documentary touches upon the political implications of this. One brief passage deals with the radicalisation of sexuality, as seen in archive footage of activist groups in the 1960s rejecting the received idea that the heterosexual family was the backbone of society. As such notions were and still are the bourgeois norm, it’s not difficult to see how a group of people marginalised due to their sexual preference share common interests with the working class. Through several of the recollections included here, one acquires a keen sense of the positive consciousness that might emerge through a struggle for organisation, acceptance and liberation.

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Indeed, when faced with social prejudice, abandonment or even punishment, suppressing one’s needs and desires can result in traumatic feelings of resentment, anger and confusion. One of Lifshitz’s subjects tells of how he actively repressed his own sexual feelings due to his Catholic upbringing, and reveals quite matter-of-factly the anguish and torment he suffered in showering with fellow males. Under such conditions – a social denial of something that is as normal as anything else – the most banal and simple discoveries can be heightened, can appear as revolutions in themselves. Another of Lifshitz’s subjects conveys just this, when she tells of the life-changing, world-turning effect that touching another woman’s hand came to have on her. Remarkably forthright, all of the interviewees manage to express to differing degrees and in varying details what such encounters come to mean to someone whose natural and ineluctable inclinations are socially prohibited.

Lifshitz has demonstrably little interest in probing these links further – which for a film at just under two hours, is something of a disappointment. His is ultimately a celebratory film, whose subjects have presumably been chosen because they have firstly been fortunate enough to reach a stage of personal contentment and are secondly all erudite and articulate enough to recount how. Such a focus is facilitated by larger shifts in social attitudes toward sexuality and by its subjects’ evident privilege in class terms. Whether a criticism of the film or not, it goes without saying that for a great number of other homosexuals currently living under the right-of-centre government in France, life is not all rosy. At any rate, if the primary concern here is an acceptance of sexuality whatever its form, the secondary concern is of course that other natural component of life – the ageing process itself. One of Lifshitz’s subjects, an 83-year-old goatherd, amusingly and perhaps wisely reckons that the retention and fulfilment of sexual pleasure is a vital part of longevity and prolonged health. But the underlying message here is that because life is preciously short, it’s a dreadful waste to live it doing and being anything you don’t want to.

Reviewed on: 09 Jul 2013
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Les Invisibles packshot
Exploring the lives of 11 gay, lesbian and bisexual men and women over the age of 70.

Director: Sébastien Lifshitz

Year: 2012

Runtime: 115 minutes

Country: France


London 2012

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