This laughably “edgy” dialogue is supposed to intrigue us. Is Alex a murderer? Director François Ozon repeatedly flips back and forth between the love story and the trial preparation, undercutting the small fractions of momentum he achieves in either storyline. I assume Ozon’s source material, a YA novel by Aidan Chambers, has a better framework. If nothing else, the director should have kept Chambers’ title, Dance on My Grave, as it refers to a disastrously rendered climactic event that should cause Rod Stewart to sue the film’s choreographer. According to the theory of Chekhov’s Footloose, if someone asks their lover to dance on their grave in the first act, a grave must be boogied on in the third.
Before shuffling off this mortal coil, the deceased was an 18-year-old named David (Benjamin Voisin). He’s first seen saving Alex from a capsized boat before taking him home to dry off. David’s newly widowed mother, Madame Gorman (Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi) strips his new friend, commenting on his junk before forcing him into the tub. “All David’s capsized friends get a bath,” she says, implying that this is a common occurrence. Madame G. constantly refers to David’s need to have “friends,” and since this takes place in 1985, this is as gay-friendly as any adult is going to get. Alex’s own father is so homophobic that he has disowned his own brother.
Alex starts working in the Gorman store, in part because he needs the money but mostly to be closer to David. The two start a sexual relationship. As in “Call Me By Your Name,” this film shies away from any sex scenes. The two lounge in their post-coital bed and recite poetry taught to them by Monsieur Lefèvre (Melvil Poupaud), the literature teacher who also figures in the present day story as an influential figure in helping Alex make his plea before the court. Lefèvre also sleeps with his students, a detail dropped so nonchalantly I guess I’m supposed to ignore it. A more pressing detail is David’s demand that he and Alex take an oath that, if one of them should die, the other should dance on his grave. This doesn’t sound romantic to this sentimental fool, but what do I know? Marilyn once sang “the French are glad to die for love.” I’ll take her word for it.