Zeno Graton’s debut feature The Lost Boys (Le paradis) isn’t just a prison relationship drama, it’s a look at a group of boys struggling to become men in a system designed to restrain them.
Joe (Khalil Gharbia) is three weeks away from freedom. Having served six months at a youth detention centre, he is starting to contemplate his future in the outside world. Without family to rejoin when he leaves, he is feeling lost. When a new guy arrives, the dangerous William (Julien de Saint Jean), Joe is immediately drawn to him and the two begin a furtive romance.
The Lost Boys plays with the idea of innocence. This group of young men are just boys in so many ways. The attraction between Joe and William is wide-eyed and pure. Had this been set in a school yard, rather than a fenced off detention yard, it would be more akin to a standard YA film where the good kid is attracted to the new boy with an air of mystery and rebellion. Here these “lost boys” find their innocence anew through each other. To “find love in a hopeless place”, as Rihanna put it.
Khalil Gharbia (who excelled in François Ozon’s Peter von Kant) and Julien de Saint Jean (who shone in Olivier Peyon’s Lie With Me) again prove themselves to be magnetic performers who can fill silence with emotion. The film’s tight timeline ramps up the stakes and both actors simmer under their cool façades. These boys would never admit to their fear, sadness, or frailty, but their actions deliver it with every breath. The sense of betrayal when William discovers Joe is leaving hits hard.
They are not alone. Eye Haidara has a compassionate edge of steel as Sophie, one of the adults looking after the boys, trying to guide and control them. Part counsellor, part warden, her character makes a strong impression throughout the film. The entire youth detention system is treated with as much nuance as the boys at its heart. Instead of being painted as a single monolithic evil, its failures feel more bureaucratic than sadistic.
The Lost Boys isn’t a hard edged drama about prison life, it’s about the pain of growing up and learning the meaning of hope and loss. Even before William’s arrival there is a sense that Joe would prefer to remain incarcerated than have to go outside and live on his own. At least in the system there is a safety blanket and someone to look out for him, even if it is with a tough hand. Through their lust and love, both Joe and William learn to connect to another person, and ultimately come out better for it.
The two terrific leads make The Lost Boys a compelling and sensitive drama. Both Gharbia and De Saint Jean are quickly creating filmographies of a high calibre, and I suspect we’ll be seeing a lot more from both of them in the coming years.
By Chad Armstrong
The Lost Boys (Le Paradis) receives its Australian Premiere at the33rd Melbourne Queer Film Festival on Saturday, November 18th, 2023. MQFF33 runs November 9th-19th. For the full lineup and to purchase tickets head to mqff.com.au.