“I never asked myself why I was homosexual. Am I like everyone else? Sure I am!”
Jacques, an 80-year-old goat farmer, reclines at sunset, recalling with a constant smile his sexual experiences with both men and women. Sébastien Lifshitz’s documentary intricately presents the stories of eleven people, all born between the two world wars, and all discovering their identity at a time when homosexuality was still considered a mental illness – hence the title, The Invisible Ones. “What was scandalous back then was to proudly proclaim it,” says Babette.
The themes of queer cinema tend to revolve around the obsession with youth, sex and the turmoil of coming out in the context of hedonistic social lifestyles. Rarely does such cinema look past the age of 50 (Christopher Plummer’s Oscar-winning role in BEGINNERS at the age of 82 being a recent notable exception). Even more rarely are elderly characters, of any sexuality, given the time to express themselves with such candour. A beautiful moment towards the end of LES INVISIBLES is Monique’s impassioned piece to camera as she talks about walls absorbing memories. Swaying back and forth with both wonder and sadness in her eyes, she says, “We can talk to a train station. The train station sees my father, of course it does!” A passer-by would perhaps dismiss this as the ramblings of an old lady, but the unwavering camerawork of cinematographer Antoine Parouty, and our investment in her story beforehand, captures the sincerity of her words.
For a documentary the film is long – almost two hours – but there can be no criticism of the editing: any cuts would have created gaps that you would certainly have noticed. Standout scenes include the skilful juxtaposition of Yann nursing a young chick out of its shell while recalling his own neglect as a child, and the comical moment when Bernard woos a dove at the window as Pierre slowly arches round to see it.
Lifshitz presents us with dignified vignettes, contrasting the social history of liberation with the participants’ personal feelings about the experience. You almost wish that films like this could be made mandatory viewing in order to educate and to highlight the reality of homosexuality today. As a French production, it couldn’t have come at a more interesting time, during widespread protests over equal marriage rights in France. LES INVISIBLES holds a clear mirror up to those issues, revealing how love transcends gender boundaries and continues beautifully into our later years with grace.