I dedicate this film to anyone who’s ever been made to feel inappropriate. ~ Director, Paul Vecchiali.
Paul Vecchiali’s Once More observes ten years in the life of a cad. He breaks a string of hearts before contracting the AIDS virus. Vecchiali utilizes music, artificial sets and an arch performance style in this tragi-comic morality play. This paints a comic sheen on his bleak view of romantic relationships. It reminded me of 1982’s Querelle. Like that film, the layers of artifice couldn’t keep me involved in the gloomy, repetitive story.
Want to learn more? Then read my spoiler filled recap. Trigger warning: The story contains self-harm and a brief discussion of incest.
Act One: Closets
Scene One: Blue Bedroom. 1978.
WIFE: I dreamed you had died. Make love to me.
LOUIS (Our depressed leading man): No.
DAUGHTER: Then make love to me!
LOUIS: Ew. No. (He sings:) “Tick tock tick tock. Life is passing me by.”
WIFE: So, this is a musical?
LOUIS: No. I’m leaving you both.
Scene Two: Blue Apartment. 1981.
ROOMMATES: Hey Louis! We want you to meet someone.
FRANZ (A security guard): You’re under arrest! Kidding. You’re hot.
LOUIS: Not interested.
(Franz gives Louis a blowjob.)
LOUIS: I’m interested.
Act Two: Liberation
Scene Three: Gay Club. 1982.
LOUIS: The set’s not blue!
BLUE POOL TABLE: Some things are still blue.
LOUIS: You don’t answer my calls.
FRANZ: “You have a husband’s eyes. I don’t want to be a wife.”
LOUIS: Make love to me.
DRAMATIC IRONY: Hah-ha!
(Louis storms out.)
MICHEL (A sweet young man): That guy doesn’t look well. Someone go check on him.
(Louis’s Roommates check on him. He’s attempted suicide.)
Scene Four: Blue Beach. 1983.
FEMALE DOCTOR: Make love to me.
LOUIS: I’m middle aged, average looking and rude. Why does every woman in this film desire me?
FEMALE DOCTOR: Some people get off on emotionally withholding men.
Scene Five: Cruising Spot. 1984.
WIFE: I have lots of lovers now. Jealous?
LOUIS: No. Go away. I’m cruising.
WIFE: Just don’t get AIDS.
LOUIS: I don’t care if I live or die. Hey Franz, I have lots of lovers now. Jealous?
FRANZ: No. Go away. I’m cruising.
MICHEL: Louis? I thought that was you. Make love to me.
LOUIS: You’re the nice guy from 1982. I’m very unpleasant.
MICHEL: Some people get off on emotionally withholding men.
LOUIS: I see what you’re doing movie.
Act Three: Tragedy
Scene Six: Daughter’s Wedding. 1985.
DOCTOR: You’ve got AIDS. And you aren’t taking care of yourself.
LOUIS: Again, I don’t care if I live or die.
WIFE: I thought coming out would cheer you up.
LOUIS: Well, I enjoyed that blow job in 1981.
(Louis dances with his daughter.)
LOUIS (Sings): “Encore, encore. Don’t live in fear. Live for love.”
(Everyone but Michel sings along.)
MICHEL: Your lyrics don’t match your behavior.
LOUIS: I know.
Scene Seven: Blue Hospital Bed. 1987.
MICHEL: We skipped a few years.
LOUIS: There were subplots for my daughter and roommates.
MICHEL: I’ll stay with you till the end.
LOUIS: This will be easier if you leave me alone.
MICHEL: “I hope I die from you.” (Steps away.)
LOUIS: Rosebud. Franz. (Louis dies.)
(Camera pans to Michel looking sad.)
Tragedy or parody?
“I think Elio will be a cinephile, and I’d like him to be in a movie theater watching Paul Vecchiali’s Once More.” ~ Luca Guadagnino on a Call Me By Your Name sequel.
Once More was shot in ten days. The stage sets and chance meetings give it the feeling of a farce. But the characters sink into depression long before the subject of AIDS is introduced.
While politicians ignored the AIDS virus the arts community had no choice but to address it. Plays like The Normal Heart, Rent, Falsettos and Angels in America are still produced today. Once More, with its archetypal characters and clockwork plot, has not aged as well. But it was one of the first films to tackle the subject, sitting alongside pioneer works like:
- Buddies (1985, Film). Young man volunteers at a hospital buddy program and befriends a man dying of AIDS. This forgotten indie was remastered in 2018 for a new audience.
- An Early Frost (1985, TV). A gay man (Aidan Quinn) returns home to tell his family about his homosexuality and his diagnosis.
- Parting Glances (1986, Film). A man invites his ex-boyfriend (Steve Buscemi) to a party. The ex has been diagnosed with AIDS.
- Longtime Companion (1989, Film). We follow a group of gay friends who decrease in numbers over the course of nine years.
- The Ryan White Story (1989, TV). Young Ryan White received AIDS from a blood transfusion and got kicked out of school. Judith Light plays his fiercely protective mother.
Matthew Lopez’s 7-hour epic The Inheritance just opened on Broadway. In it he argues that new generations of LGBT folk are being allowed to forget the epidemic and the generation who lost their lives to it. No single work of art can teach someone what it was like then. But there is a large collection and more stories yet to be written.
Which of these early films have you seen? What films about the epidemic would you show to a young person today? How do you feel 1993’s tentpole film, Philadelphia, has aged? Does anyone want a film sequel to Call Me By Your Name? For more reviews of LGBT+ media click here.
Up next: Two strangers reluctantly share a lover. How do they make it work? Find out in 1971’s Sunday Bloody Sunday.