In 2017, acclaimed author Philippe Besson published ‘Lie With Me’, or rather, ‘Arrête avec tes mensonges’ in French which translates to ‘Stop With Your Lies’. His novel was a triumph and won Maison de la Presse Prize that very same year.
When French film director, Olivier Peyon encountered the book for the first time, it was on the precipice of becoming an instant hit. He felt that he could expand on the relationship between the writer and the son in the film adaptation and with Besson’s blessing, he embarked on a deeply personal and inspiring journey creating ‘Lie With Me’.
The movie follows the story of “a successful novelist, Stéphane Belcourt (Guillaume de Tonquédec and Jérémy Gillet) who must confront the ghosts of the past when he returns to his small hometown for the first time in decades… Stéphane is stunned to discover that one of the company’s executives is Lucas (Victor Belmondo), the son of his teenage first love Thomas (Julien De Saint Jean). This triggers for Stéphane vivid memories of their passionate but secret adolescent affair, at a time when homosexuality was kept in the shadows.”
We sat down with the film’s director, Olivier Peyon, to chat all about how the film came to be, his own relationship with the story and so much more.
How did this beautiful film come about?
I had never read Philippe Besson’s novel, he’s very famous in France but I didn’t read so much. I read the book and I thought the ending was really moving. I liked the ‘first love’ story which is really important in the book but I also liked the relationship between the son and the writer and that’s why I wanted to make the movie. When I first read the book it was not in the bookstore yet. Often publishers send novels to the producer because they try to sell them before they’re released so when I finally met Philippe Besson, the book was a big success in France but because I asked to meet him before the success, he trusted me. When I met him I was talking about what I loved in his book and that I wanted to develop the relationship between the writer and the son and he liked the idea. The book is more about the teenage love story, the relationship between the son and the writer is more of a pretext to tell the past. For me, I wanted to do a movie more in the present.
The book’s title (and the film) can be said to have a double meaning. Did you feel it was necessary to hold onto the original title or were there plans to change it for the film?
In French, the original title is quite different. I really love the English title but in French, the title is ‘Stop With Your Lies’ which is quite the expression in French and so in France we kept the French title. I worked on this subject in the movie with the characters always talking about lies. When I started writing the script, I also worked on the French title about the theme of the lies. I hope that the double meaning of the English title is also in the movie.
How did you find the balance between remaining truthful to the original text and adding your interpretation of the story?
When you work on it you don’t think about it so much. When I read the book, I had something in my heart and in fact, throughout the entire process of when I was working on the script, I tried to keep the feeling that I had when I read the book. There’s a lot of me in this movie because I am who I am and because of my life and my own story. When you talk about the difference between the book and my inspiration, for example, the book is really serious. There is no humour at all and I think there are some scenes in my movie that are quite funny. It’s important that it seems to be quite funny and this is really my way of telling a story that speaks between gravity and humour.
You mentioned that there are pieces of your own life in this film, I was wondering if you could talk about that a little bit more?
When I realised I was gay, I had questions about how my sons could understand me and how can I talk to them about it. These were questions I asked a lot a few years before the movie as well so I hope I didn’t traumatise them. I started to imagine when I was writing how it would affect them if I didn’t speak to them about it. It’s about trust and I think the tragedy that Thómas as a father experiences in the movie is that he didn’t trust his son because he was so lost. I think that’s why Lucas (his son) suffers so much. His father lies to him of course but he also didn’t trust him. In my own life, I try to trust my kids and I felt really connected with this theme in the story.
Thomas states “I can’t get caught…” as he hides behind the curtains in Stéphane’s room- in what ways do you think this story tackles internalised homophobia?
I think when I was younger I was very like Thómas experiencing internalised homophobia. For ten years I had a wife and then I fell in love with a man and once I came out, I felt so free. I asked a friend of mine “Why was it so difficult for me to come out before now?” and she told me that we have 2000 years of Christian history. I think the thing about internalised homophobia is due to the culture we’re surrounded by. Hopefully, it has changed for the younger generation now thanks to television shows and films but, it’s really difficult when you feel different to other people, you have to have a journey.
In some ways, Stéphane’s relationship with Thomas lives on through his son, Lucas. Were there any directorial decisions that you made to ensure that message came through?
In the movie, Stéphane the writer is completely lost. He understands that Lucas is the son of his first love but he also sees a young beautiful man so at times he doesn’t fully understand where he is. There is a scene with the American tourists where Stéphane is talking about when he was in the United States and he drank a lot of alcohol etc. and he’s trying to be funny in a sense to seduce Lucas but he doesn’t realise how inappropriate that is at the time. After that, the relationship between the two men becomes real with no seduction at all. Stéphane is Lucas’ new father in a sense.
Interview by Elliott Salmon
Lie With Me – In Cinemas and on Digital 18th August.