Sebastien Lifshitz’s Les Invisibles opens with two men tenderly helping a bird out of its egg shell. The hatchling is struggling, without this generous assistance it is hard to see how it would have managed to escape its cell. These men know more than most what it is like to be trapped, in need of support to free them from cage imposed on them by an older generation. They are the invisible ones, gay, lesbian and bisexuals, some born between the wars and some born during and after the Second World War. A group of people who as single entities remained hidden but with tender and often forceful support from others have managed to emerge from a prison of dogma, resistance and misunderstanding. Lifshitz removes their bars and frees them to tell their story.
It seems strange that these tales emanate from people in their 60’s, 70’s and even 80’s yet I believe this says more about our society than it does about these people. They tell stories of hiding from parents, anxiety stemming from religion, political ostracism and even being relieved from jobs. The subject’s ages play an important part in the frankness and authority of their words. After years of silence or revolutionary action, they can finally reveal their own personal stories, whether an 80 year old goat farmer or an activist in the city they are ground-breaking people of incredible strength with so much experience in the area you would be a fool not to listen to them. A 70 year old man who has recently left his wife to be with his gay partner is testament to the fact that it’s not over until it’s over. Their issues have changed and developed over time, with many defining life moments not coming until far later in life with many stories proving both moving and comical, their accounts are priceless social history.
The difficulties facing these pioneers may be similar to some of the exclusion that gay people face today but they are in most cases more severe. A man, disowned by his mother and rejected by his political affiliation was then told by a doctor that he was mentally ill. For some the only escape was to the even harsher environs of Africa and the South Pole. Children see their mother reborn at 42 after only in her accelerated years finding the confidence to come out. It is impossible to tell whether or not there will be other hidden generations like this but as homosexuality becomes a far more tolerated and open section of society it may be that these men and women can act as an inspiration to the many yet to find the strength or support needed to be themselves.
Despite its revealing and excitedly told focus Les Invisibles is not merely a triumph of substance over style. Lifshitz combines face to face honesty with wonderful moments of musical reflection and poignant imagery, sometimes drawn from the cast’s photo albums. The music helps to dictate the tone throughout and the subtle balance of the light-hearted and more heart wrenching tales allow the film to flow smoothly without becoming too morose or even too blithe. A jovial farmer’s recollections of trysts by the riverside helps ease the sorrow that builds after contemplating a man suffering an oppressed religious upbringing, but Lifshitz never relents in studying his subjects intensely, even just to catch a look or tell in a face that may still be trying to hide sadness.
Lifshitz does not open our eyes to this subject, it is something that is prevalent in society, what he does do is highlight a forgotten section, a hidden element that can do as much for the gay community as the wider one. He has broken down an invisible wall that was the final hurdle for this determined group. As well as creating a fascinating piece of work he has tenderly picked apart the eggshell surrounding them and helped them into the light.