Daniel (Ange Dargent) is small, has long hair and loves to spend his time dreaming and drawing – which obviously doesn’t give him the best of standing in his school. He finds an ally in Théo (Théophile Baquet) who works in his father’s shop as a mechanic and loves to tinker with motors, although they make him smell of gasoline, which means he, too, is ostracized. The two of them become inseparable and start working on a car of their own – their way to freedom. And when it actually works, they decide to hit the road.
I enjoyed Microbe et Gasoil. It was funny and sweet in many ways. But I hoped that it would be more than what it was and I absolutely hated the ending, which does leave a bit of a bitter aftertaste.
As the film started, I was convinced that it would turn out to be a story about Daniel coming out as trans or genderfluid, and probably in love with Théo. There were a few hints in that direction for me, and since I’m always looking for stories like that, I picked up on that quickly. I would have loved it, if I had turned out to be right. But I wasn’t. No, in fact, the movie starts pushing a completely unnecessary female love interest on us, Laura (Diane Besnier) who becomes Daniel’s goal to reach with their car. On the way. the film makes sure that Daniel goes to cut his hair to lose his femininity and finally even to beat somebody up, to make sure that he really, really conforms to the usual gender roles [since it’s also a coming of age film, it implies that non-conformity is a childish phase that will pass]. He’s a real man! No homo, I swear!
That was disappointing to say the least and it meant that my enhusiasm for the film did turn colder as it went on. It still was heart-wrenching when reality crashes into the boys’ dreams and brings them back down from their trip. It would have been nice if they had been allowed ot live it longer, but it was a strong turn for the film. What really bothered me about the ending, though, was the very last scene.
In that scene, we see Laura watching as Daniel is led from the school (after having beaten up his colleague), and for the first time ever we get an idea of her inner life in form of a voice over monologue – she is hoping for him to turn around. And that annoyed me because a) the film is all about the boys and not interested in Laura except as a holy grail to be looked for unitl that point, b) even that small bit of interest in her as a person with feelings is only there to make Daniel’s story end even more tragically and c) Daniel basically stalks her and that is rewarded with her interest in him. Really could have done without all of that.
Despite the misgivings I had, there is something magical about Microbe et Gasoil, their house-car and their plan. It made me laugh more than once. It’s just the right amount of quirky to be heartfelt and not annoying. I did feel with the boys. Their friendship works and carries the film even through its rough spots. All of this is a very effective counterweight to the film’s weaknesses, making it very much worth watching.