Sunday, April 4, 2021

Anne Fontaine | Tapin du Soir (Night Hustler)


by Douglas Messerli

Olivier Rouvièr and Anne Fontaine (scenario and screenplay), Anne Fontaine (director) Tapin du soir (Night Hustler) / 1996

In 1996 French Television showed a series of ten LGBTQ films, each presented on a different evening, by a wide range of international directors titled L’Amour est  à réinventer. The 7th episode of the series, Tapin du soir (Night Hustler), a 5 minute short, directed by Anne Fontaine, was aired on November 8, 1996.

     This is an extremely simple but lovely and rather disconcerting short film that charms one more in afterthought than upon first viewing.

      Voices begin to be heard even before we see the first image of a rather attractive young man (Franck Demules) walking the night streets of a city. We hear one voice offering a blow job for $40, so we presume immediately that we must be near a popular urban pick-up spot for gay  prostitutes. And, accordingly, it is likely that the young man we follow, is a hustler as well. When he passes a young black man who asks for a cigarette we discover, however, from questions that the black hustler asks—“You new here?” and “Are you working”—that our assumptions may be wrong. The young “hero” denies he is “working.”

      We see a car pull up and another young boy walk up to its window, presumably to discover the driver’s needs, as our young figure hunkers down on a nearby bench, taking out a cigarette.  Another car pulls up and the young man goes over to the window, the drive calling out “How much  for a blow-job?” The young man replies, giving apparently the going rate, “$40.” And he soon joins the driver in the car as they drive off to a quieter location where the older but still handsome man (François Chatriot) hands him the money, the boy, putting a prophylactic on the driver’s cock, sucking him off.

        So it appears the boy is a hustler after all, and he is working the street that night, even if he’s new to it. But something happens once again that alters the way we perceive what we have just witnessed. The boy starts up a conversation, “It’s cold tonight...don’t you think?” 

        The man gruffly agrees and announces he’ll take the boy back to where he picked him up. But the boy asks the unthinkable: “You want to suck me off too?”

        “No, that’s enough,” replies his apparently satisfied customer.

    “I can be gentle, you know,” the boy adds, twisting the conversation into another dimension. Presumably, a true hustler wouldn’t want to cum simply because someone else might hire him later for the same pleasure. Another $40 or even more be made that evening. And “gentleness?” Perhaps for some customers but not for others. It is certainly not a general qualification. Some like it rough.

         His gentleman friend pretends to turn the tables, so to speak. “Really. You’d pay for it?”

         “Yes,” he immediately responds. “That would be funny.” But despite the man’s dismissal (“You’re wasting your time”), he’s serious: “I’ll give your forty dollars back.”

         “I’m not interested. I’ve got to get home.”

         A young boy is determined if nothing else. “I want you to suck me off.  I need it.”

     The gentleman finally realizes that something is strange here. “You’re a funny sort of hustler. Nothing better to do?”

         “I’m not a hustler. I’m lonely.”


          The customer starts up the car and begins to drive off. “Let’s go have a drink.”

         There is something so simply touching and honest about Fontaine’s film. Our young man clearly recognizes that in a transactional world the only way to find love or possible friendship is to pay or have someone else pay for it. And, strangely, his somewhat perverted logic appears to work. But in having a drink with the man, might he not also be perceived as a paid companion? Is any genuine relationship possible in a world in which everything is bought and sold, to be enjoyed for a limited time without any further complications? Our young man, if nothing else, has complicated things, has forced the consumer to pause in his busy schedule to possibly discover a new aspect in his sexually meaningless life. It’s important to note that even as he ejaculates there is little but a mild sense of release expressed upon his otherwise blank face. In expressing his loneliness, the boy has at least reached out to touch something deep in nearly every one of us. Perhaps before the night is out, the man might even manage a smile.

Los Angeles, April 4, 2021

Reprinted from My Queer Cinema blog and World Cinema Review (April 2021).



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