Alain Guiraudie, The King of Escape, 2009, 35 mm, color, sound, 93 minutes.


A SEXUALLY ANARCHIC romp filled with gerontophilia and quite literal chubby-chasing, Alain Guiraudie’s adventurous 2009 comedy, The King of Escape, is finally receiving a belated week-long run thanks to the high profile of the director’s follow-up feature, the taut cruising-ground thriller Stranger by the Lake. The success of the later film, a prizewinner at Cannes last year and the first of his movies to receive a stateside release, occasioned a complete Guiraudie retrospective at the Film Society of Lincoln Center in January. The series confirmed that Guiraudie, who began his career in 1990, remains unrivaled in deftly depicting desires that upend convention, whether homo or hetero—libidinous fluidity most exuberantly on display in The King of Escape.

Unlike his fellow openly gay directors in France, such as François Ozon, André Téchiné, Jacques Nolot, and the recently departed Patrice Chéreau, Guiraudie has focused almost exclusively on working-class characters, setting all of his films in rural southern France, usually in the Midi-Pyrenees region, where he lives. The lowing of cows can be heard in King’s first scene, as portly Armand (Ludovic Berthillot), a tractor salesman, patiently endures his client’s indecision about whether to purchase a blue or yellow farm vehicle. After this meeting, the middle-aged agri-retailer stops by the local meat rack, kibitzing with Jean-Jacques (Bruno Valayer), a friend and sometime bedmate, who upbraids him for being too picky. Armand, who favors white-haired, wrinkly gentlemen, doesn’t want Mr. Right, as he corrects his pal, but “Mr. Not So Bad.” While continuing his same-sexing, though, Armand falls for Ms. Barely Legal: sixteen-year-old Curly (Hafsia Herzi), a business competitor’s daughter, whom he had saved from being assaulted by four teenage creeps.

Though Guiraudie presents this unlikely pair’s vigorous alfresco rutting admiringly, he also playfully sends up these scenes of carnal abandon on occasion, a strategy he also deploys in the exclusively man-on-man Stranger by the Lake. Mid-coitus—and while on the lam from Curly’s rifle-toting father, with helicopters and hounds on their trail—Armand can’t resist telling his adolescent lover the price and provenance of the tube of Cool Sensations lube they’re about to put to use. Other aspects in King also anticipate details in Stranger: Both films feature inspectors who show up at the most awkwardly intimate moments and are prone to gnomic pronouncements. (“What if liking older men leads me to believe you like young girls?” the besuited police commissioner equably asks Armand.) And both prominently showcase corpulent bodies, the stocky build of Armand, frequently shown in nothing more than ill-fitting undies, closely resembling that of one of Stranger’s main characters.

Yet King stands alone for its welcome detonation of the unsophisticated argument that gays are “born this way” (a position that has become even more popular in the five years since the film premiered). “Don’t tell me you’re gay for the fun of it—just for the freedom, the parties,” an incredulous Jean-Jacques tells Armand after he learns of his latest romance. “I chose to live this way,” he responds. “I had a choice and, even at forty, I still want one. That life used to be a blast; now it’s a drag.” In Guiraudie’s arcadian, sexually lawless universe, there’s nothing gayer than intergenerational, Kinsey-scale-obliterating lust.

Melissa Anderson

The King of Escape plays at Anthology Film Archives April 11–17.