Having spent much of her life as a controversial author, Gigola is Laure Charpentier’s directorial debut.
Set in the underbelly of (literally) Gay Paris, the film tells the story of George (Lou Doillon), a young woman who dresses as a man and hires herself and her services out to the lonely, undersexed women of the Parisian aristocracy. With its setting within this little known subculture and her emphasis on authenticity, it’s lucky that Charpentier is familiar with the source material. In 1972, she wrote the semi-autobiographical novel, Gigola. Upon its publication the book caused uproar, and was hastily banned by critics. The ban wasn’t lifted for 30 years. Whether it was the lesbian sex scenes or the blatant challenges to gender stereotypes, Gigola rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. However, with her movie, Charpentier looks likely to reclaim that audience. The film is dripping with affection for 60s Parisian nightlife, though often seedy and sometimes dangerous, Gigola is full of fascinating and exuberant characters. From the dragged-up cabaret singers to the unhinged prostitutes George pimps out, it feels shady fairytale.
i-D online spoke to Charpentier about the Paris she remembers, and George’s place in today’s more liberated society.
Gigola feels like a love letter to the Paris of the 60s. Why do you love the city? What is it that makes you fall in love? Because I’m Parisian. Because I love Paris. It’s my town. France is my country of course, but when I go away for long periods travelling, and then come back to Paris I say “Ahh, my Paris.” So it’s that sort of love.
So you still live there? Yes, it would be impossible to live anywhere else.
How do you feel about Paris today? Are its best days behind it? It’s not the same Paris. My Paris had ‘the nights’. These have finished for me, partly because I’m too old [laughs], but also because it is impossible to find the same places I loved, they’ve all shut.
Was part of the appeal of the gay club scene back then, the fact that it was so secretive? I think maybe it was a secret, yes, but it was also the money, there was much more money. In the cabaret, it was champagne, always. Champagne, champagne, champagne, now it’s Coca-Cola. We’d spend all night in a nightclub, but it’s finished. The champagne, the dress code, it’s all gone. Now it’s ripped jeans everywhere. It’s not sexy, it’s not interesting. I prefer a woman in a long dress, with jewels and diamonds and traditions. And in gay places, there is no more glamour.
The clothes in the film are incredibls, planned down to the tiniest detail. What sort of hand did you have in that side? I chose everything, all the clothes. I described everything so it was very easy for the wardrobe boys. They’d say “Do you like this?” “Is this the right colour?” and they’d ask for validation for everything of course.
The film is interspersed with cabaret performances, like narrations getting the viewer up to speed with the story. What purpose did you want the songs and the music to serve? It was the music of the 60s. We danced to it. It was wonderfully slow. I would have liked to have Le Petit Fleur but it was impossible. It was very expensive. I wanted dressage girls too.
When the book was first released, it was banned. What was it that upset the censors? It was forbidden because there is the gay scene with the cane, and erotic scenes between women. In 1972 it was very difficult to speak about these subjects, they were very taboo. But later, the censor [who banned it] retired, so it was possible to publish it again. But for me it was not important if it got published or not. Either way, it got a quiet reception, as it was my first book.
How did writing it compare to directing it? Two adventures. This is my first film and it was my first book. It’s one adventure writing and another directing. Originally I didn’t want to direct the film but the producer said, “Either it’s you or it’s finished” So I say “No, Gigola can’t die.” So I tried to direct it. We had eight directors before me, it was very difficult. Mainly because the men wanted to put their fantasies on mine it was impossible to do. A man is not a woman.
Would you say you’ve got a taste for directing now? Are you looking to do more? I hope so. I have another two projects. One is in London. One is about the paparazzi, and the other is about the ‘butches’. I saw many in London and I was very inspired.
Gigola is out on DVD now.
Text: Joe Iley