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  • Writer's pictureBen Turner

Reinventing Marvin ****

Starring: Finnegan Oldfield, Grégory Gadebois, Vincent Macaigne, Catherine Sallée, Jules Porier, Catherine Muchet, Charles Berling, Isabelle Huppert

Director: Anne Fontaine

The last oppressed generation are coming of age. With most western countries at least a decade into their eras of equality, the young LGBT people growing up today are growing up with their rights enshrined in law, but I (and many other older Millennials) are the last people who did not. That contrast between extreme repression in childhood and absolute freedom as a young adult is something that marks our stories out from others, and this is accurately exhibited in Anne Fontaine’s (Coco Before Chanel, Les Innocents) adaptation of Marvin Bijoux’s memoir, Reinventing Marvin.

Marvin (Oldfield) is a young actor living in Paris. Living under the protection of his mentor Abel (Macaigne), he is old before his years and extremely talented. But in his childhood in the countryside (Porier plays the young Marvin) he was persecuted at school for his sexuality and at home by his parents (Gadebois & Sallée). His acting talent is discovered by his headteacher (Muchet) who encourages him to pursue his dream, but as he escapes to Drama school, the glamour of a rich benefactor (Berling) and his glamorous friends (Huppert) begins to tempt him away from the artistic truth that Abel had seen in him.

A defining feature that marks LGBT people of my generation is the way that we flocked to big cities to escape the narrow-mindedness of our home towns. Only in Paris could Marvin be himself and when he gets there, his behaviour upon receiving his emancipation is both grateful – his alignment with Abel – and like a kid in a candy shop, seeing the power his youth and sexuality can have within the right circles. Of course, this film is about him finding the balance between these parts of himself, but the film adeptly positions itself looking up to these two older but contradictory men, unable to align itself because they are saying completely different things. It falls to the resplendent Isabelle Huppert to help him find this reconciliation, like the mother Marvin needed as a child.

Huppert plays herself in the film. Initially, her appearance is somewhat perplexing until the jigsaw begins to slot together as the disparate narrative strands begin to congeal toward the end of the film. This is, after all, a true story and Marvin’s story is one of rags to riches. What’s interesting is how his family behaves upon achievement of his success. The people who wanted to wash their hands of their eccentric son suddenly see his value, if only monetarily. They make laughable attempts at reconciliation, unable to see that this is too little too late. The damage is already done and Marvin’s cloaked and cold amusement is definitely rewarding as he keeps his distance from the family who tormented him.

The family’s persecution was extreme. Marvin was treated like a demi-human; present but insignificant. Partially this comes from the deprivation in which they were living, but the father’s obsession with masculinity was what made Marvin want to be as far away as possible; even going as far as changing his surname. But even though he does make his escape, there is a really poignant scene just before he leaves for Paris in which the young Marvin is beginning to attempt to fit in. He has resigned himself to assimilation rather than being himself, and it’s interesting to see a hint of the way his life could have gone if he had not been rescued by his teacher, which saw him recreating the behaviour of his family: angry, foul-mouthed and violent.

This is a film about how somebody can be saved by art. It is also a story of social mobility and self-improvement. But mostly, this is the story how important it is to provide young people with an “out”. We may all be products of our upbringings, but that should never mean that this should be the only opportunity afforded to us. Marvin escaped his small town, just like I did.

Narratively this film breaks no new ground, but it is executed well and hinges around a great performance from breakthrough actor Finnegan Oldfield. It is one of the stronger LGBT movies released this year and is a great example of how France is producing some of the best Queer content at the moment. Marvin is an incredibly relatable character and despite his enigmatic mask-like face that betrays little about the way he is feeling, you care deeply for a character who is, in essence, the same as you or I.

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