A welcome complexity has crept into recent films recounting the first decade of the AIDS epidemic, rejecting the impulse to paint the era’s gay men as either pathologized deviants or skeletal saints raging against the dying of the light. Add to this corpus Sorry Angel, writer/director Christophe Honoré’s knowing and unsentimental tale of an intergenerational affair in mid-’90s France.
Thirtysomething writer Jacques (Pierre Deladonchamps) meets college-age Arthur (Vincent Lacoste) while in Brittany for work. They soon separate, with Arthur navigating coming-out and Jacques returning to Paris to juggle responsibilities to his young son, his neighbor and confidante Mathieu (Denis Podalydès), and another friend in the late stages of AIDS-related illness. Honoré chronicles his two protagonists with empathetic but clear eyes, revealing how proximity to stigma and illness colors if not absolves the aloofness that can mark their relation to others.
Their eventual reunion becomes both a personal consummation and a larger negotiation of a cultural and erotic lineage ever-endangered in the age of HIV. Honoré largely adheres to a restrained visual palette here, mirroring his evenhanded vision of queer kinship. Humor, sex, love beyond the bounds of normalcy—all are warmly located in Jacques and Arthur’s time together. Still, Sorry Angel’s final musical cue notes the melancholy paradox of just such intimacy: “Two can be as bad as one / It’s the loneliest number since the number one.”