Credit: FIDMarseille
by Shar Tan Featured Film

Artistes en Zone Troublés — Stéphane Gérard and Lionel Soukaz [FIDMarseille ’23 Review]

July 7, 2023

“The homosexual subject group,” writes Guy Hocquenghem, “knows that civilization alone is mortal.” Written in 1973, prior to the AIDS epidemic, Hocquenghem located the threat of homosexual desire in its cultural propensity for death; the gay man’s refusal to procreate spelt the destruction of society’s future. But within the context of the AIDS crisis, Hocquenghem’s statement takes on a deeply ominous tone: it is the gay man who has been systematically written out of any viable future. The tragedy of Keith Haring’s unfinished painting goes beyond its calculated incompleteness; the blank canvas insistently invites possibility even though its very existence simultaneously destroys it.

Similarly, Stéphane Gérard and Lionel Soukaz’s short film Artistes en Zone Troublés is both a tender eulogy to one man and a reminder of what could have been and what could never be. It largely comprises home video footage that Soukaz shot of Hervé Couergou, an artist who was also Soukaz’s companion. While it’s been almost thirty years since Couergou’s death of AIDS, Artistes en Zone Troublés feels particularly present, as the dreamy texture of the home videos is awash with Soukaz’s enduring love for his partner. As if acutely aware of the cruel tyranny of time, close-ups on Couergou’s face linger a little longer than usual. The superimpositions of videos, words, and faces allow for Couergou to take up as much space as possible in the frame, but in doing so, reminds us how terribly short life can be. There is no camera in the world that could have captured the life that Couergou has lived and could have lived. As Soukaz mentioned in an interview for FIDMarseille: “I didn’t have time for editing, all that mattered was filming [Couergou] and being with him.” In Gérard and Soukaz’s film, artistry is secondary to the vicissitudes of real life and yet paramount in celebrating its presence. The 38-minute short barely makes a dent when compared to the 2000 hours of videos that Soukaz filmed of Couergou, but perhaps its truncation is necessary in generating an excess of readerly desire that’s forcefully curtailed — wanting more isn’t a queer prerogative. 

More importantly, Soukaz captures Couergou as a gay artist; the collision between creation and death has never felt more poignant, especially when Couergou emphatically declares: “I create therefore I will not die.” But the point of Artistes en Zone Troublés is that Couergou’s death also meant the death of the art that he could have created, and this visceral loss reverberates across the film and beyond it — what would the world look like if an entire generation of gay men had lived long enough to shape it? There are no answers, and the film’s abrupt transition to black after a snap of Couergou’s fingers tragically seals an untimely fate.

Published as part of InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 27