Lie with Me

Lie With Me – in conversation with writer and director Olivier Peyon

Lie With Me arrives in cinemas and on digital on the 18th of August.

Lie With Me is a stunning exploration of love found, lost and found again through blood memory, prose and a need for shared healing and individual closure”. ★★★★★ READ MORE

In March, I had the pleasure of attending a packed screening of Lie With Me at BFI Flare. The audience reaction to Olivier Peyon’s adaptation of Philippe Besson’s bestselling autobiographical novel was glowing. Besson’s Arrête avec tes mensonges is directly translated to Stop with Your Lies, but its English title would embrace a different play on words with Lie With Me, reflecting its story of hidden lives, secret love and a father-son relationship damaged by silence. Far from being a word-for-word adaptation of Besson’s novel, Peyon’s film opts to play with the narrative focus while honouring the key themes in Besson’s work. As I sat down with Olivier Peyon to discuss Lie with Me before its UK release on the 18th of August, these changes to Besson’s novel intrigued me.

Olivier Peyon is no stranger to exploring the complex maze of human behaviours that shape our world, from Les petites vacances to the documentary Latifa, le coeur au combat. But I am also interested in what drew Olivier to Besson’s bestseller. “A producer who had read the book called me and told me it could be a great movie. I knew of Philippe Besson’s work but had never read the book, so I got a copy and was incredibly moved, especially by the end. Philippe Besson is a great writer, but I was also curious as, in France, all the book reviews talked about the love story between the two teenagers, but not the element I found most interesting: the story of a son who had suffered from a distant father who kept his life a secret, before discovering his father was once in love with a boy. This really struck me, and for that reason, I wanted to do the movie.” I am interested in how Olivier communicated that change with Philippe; after all, Arrête avec tes mensonges is an autobiographical story. “I met Philippe and explained what I wanted to do, what I was interested in exploring. Thankfully, he liked the idea and loved the final film. For him, there is a book and a movie, and they are like brothers; they are not the same, but they are a part of each other.”

I can’t hide my admiration for Olivier’s bravery in playing with the themes housed in Besson’s book, most notably the narrative focus. Lie With Me would opt to explore the present day more than the 80s love affair. But how did Philippe feel about this altered focus? Olivier smiles, “Philippe understood the differences between novels and films and told me I could adapt freely. But I was also really conscious that Arrête avec tes mensonges was a personal story that needed to be treated with care. I needed to understand fully the events held in the novel, so step by step, I asked him questions about things that never made it into the book and the emotions and feelings attached. I needed to get that right while creating a film that explored things from a different angle. I read a lot about him as an author, from newspaper articles to interviews and ensured he felt comfortable with every change I made in the film, including the move to a more present-day focus. In cinema, we don’t have the luxury of time a book does, so we have to find ways of telling a story that works for the audience watching. We had little money and time, so I worked extensively on the script to shape the film’s different connection between the past and the present.”

Equally impressive is the ability of Lie With Me to speak to multiple audiences. Yes, it’s a gay love story at its heart, but its soul holds so much more; it’s about relationships, reconnection, rebirth, and the secrets we all keep locked away. Olivier nods, “You know, after reading the novel, I reflected on its themes, and you are right; while it is a beautiful gay love story, it’s also about family secrets, generational divides and the need for connection. During festival screenings in France, it was clear that a diversity of audience members were touched by the core themes, from straight men and women to LGBTQ+ people. Victor Mundo, who plays Lucas (the son), wanted to do the film because of its father/son themes, and in all screenings, it was clear that these themes really touched people. Straight audience members would comment afterwards on the flashback sequences, saying, “I didn’t know it was like that for gay people in the 80s”. It challenged people to think about homophobia and its lasting effects.” This ties to my own thoughts as Lie With Me discusses the need for open communication between men, especially fathers and their sons; Olivier adds, “It’s true, and still sad, that men and boys watching relate to this barrier even now, especially around topics of sexuality and love.”

Of course, none of this narrative complexity would work without a stunning ensemble cast, “I was lucky!” Olivier proclaims, “But it was a long process.” He continues. “The first actor to join the project was Guilaine Londez as Gaëlle Flamand, a character not in the book but one I feel added so much to the story. I met Victor three years ago before he became quite famous in France. He was terrific for this part and the only person I wanted to play Lucas. The final actor to join was Guillaume de Tonquédec as Stéphane Belcourt. We had someone in this role before Guillaume, but it didn’t work out creatively, and we were so lucky to have Guillaume step in. Casting the younger characters was more challenging due to the intimate scenes they had together. Lie With Me was my first love story and my first time directing sex scenes; the sensuality of these scenes was so important, as they marked the birth of love for Stéphane and Thomas. I was lucky because Jérémy and Julien, the two young actors, had read the book before, so they knew both boys’ intimate journey. We talked a lot about their scenes together, and they expressed ideas and suggestions for making each scene work. They were both wonderful to work with.”

As our time together draws to a close, I am keen for us to reflect on the themes of first love at the heart of the film. We all know first love can be joyous and wonderful, but it can also be incredibly painful, and I wonder whether any of us ever get over our first love. But Olivier disagrees, “Besson may think your first love stays with you forever. But I don’t think so. No, my life’s most beautiful love story is not the first one. For me, first love was more of an experience; it was just the first draft. Maybe that’s why it wasn’t the love story in the book that struck me but the silence between a father and son.”

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