[Essay] Life in film: Hugo Gélin’s Comme des Fréres — Gergely Károly

Just Like Brothers (Comme des Fréres) is a French movie released in 2012, produced and directed by Hugo Gélin. Although underrated, I believe it is a brilliant piece of art and in the following I am going to present why. If I were to summarize the movie in one sentence, I’d say that there is everything within it—our whole life.

The story follows the adventures of three men: Boris (Francois–Xavier Demaison), Elie (Nicolas Duvauchelle) and Maxime (Pierre Niney). The only thing they have in common is Charlie (Melanie Thierry). She is the most important woman in their lives. When she dies, they decide to take a journey to Corsica, hommage á Charlie. The 900 km long journey changes their relation crucially, and as we progress in the story we find out more about their common history and different relations to ‘the woman’.

The three protagonists are from three distinct generations. Boris is celebrating his 40th birthday during the journey, Elie is around 30s and Maxime is in his early 20s. Each of them face diverse problems as a consequence of their age. Their different relations to Charlie are also the result of their age. The way that three generations are able to mingle and enjoy each others company is movingly pictured and of course, it enabled the writers to create hilarious situations based on the their various ages.

Furthermore, they have different jobs as well. Boris works as a successful businessman, most of the time he is on the phone, arranging business affairs. Elie works as a semi-successful script-writer, enjoying all the positive and negative sides of being an artist. Maxime is a student, who still lives with his mother and his primary problems are mainly concentrated around food. What can be the topic of discussion for three guys with completely distant interests and jobs? The film fantastically describes how can they teach and learn from each other and how their differences are becoming irrelevant as soon as they start to get along better.

They are also uniquely connected to Charlie. For Boris, she is the ‘woman of his dreams’, and it turns out that they’ve been dating for a while. After they had broken up, Boris wasn’t able to start a normal relationship again, he still compares everyone to Charlie. However, he looks at her primarily as a friend, but experiences the feeling when you are wondering what could have been.

Elie looks at her as a sister—she is a very close friend, maybe his closest friend. They’ve had been dating in high school and the teenager romance transformed into a true friendship. Also, she is in good terms with Elie’s family and girlfriend, and she is the one who knows about Elie’s most personal problems.

Charlie had babysat Maxime when he was younger, and their ‘romance’ was rather platonic—she used to tell him bedtime stories, where in the end Maxime married her. These relations create the connection between the three guys—the question is if they are going to stay in touch even after Charlie’s departure.

The film is also an emotional rollercoaster. Its opening scene takes place at the burial feast of Charlie, but in spite of the desperate first minutes, a happy atmosphere arises by the end of the tenth minute. Later on, everyone will have their favorite moment whether if it’s a love, laughter, or nostalgia-centric moment when you start to believe in the positive side of humanity again. The film brilliantly plays with emotional nuance and this is one of the factors prompting me to recommend it to anyone. It’s not just about one single emotion and the overwhelming pushing of that certain passion, but rather a beautiful carpet which strings together various feelings.

It is important to mention the music as well. The soundtrack was produced by the French band, Revolver and it’s just absolutely fantastic. It is hard to find the right words, but it certainly underlines the message delivered by the story and it is also perfectly suitable for listening even without the film. It is mostly instrumental, but there are also some songs with vocals, as well as some older disco-hits.

If you want to dig deeper into the structure of the film, I’d like you to look at its timeline. It follows the path of the ancient analytical dramas – we progress with the history and we find out more and more about the events in the past as we watch the movie. This is a rather challenging concept and the connecting links between the different timelines are quite subtle and intelligent.

But besides its multilayered visage, this film is mostly about love. Boris is still struggling to get over Charlie and he is alone, without family and friends. He lost Charlie. His father, who is a famous actor deeply dislikes him for being a businessman. He is realizing that he is entering into his 40s alone. Nevertheless, in a beautiful scene, he meets with a girl whom he spent a wonderful night together back in 1989 and it seems like he gains back some emotional stability.

Elie has love issues as well. In spite of not being ‘father material’, he’s been trying for two years two conceive a child, but his girlfriend is still not pregnant. He has lost his closest friend and he is uncertain about himself as well, as a result of the aforementioned unsuccessful trying. Maxime has a girlfriend, but his ‘lady’ doesn’t seem like the most faithful partner. When she breaks up with him in a text message, he needs the help of the two other, more experienced protagonists to deal with it.

So we have the problem of the first big breakup, leveling up in an already serious relationship and regaining confidence at an age when most men loose it all within the confines of one film. That is why I believe that this movie is a masterpiece. It contains and discusses numerous serious issues of a person’s life in a very moving and funny way while challenging us with its structure and wit.


Gergely Károly is a freelance journalist. He holds a BA in Politics and Modern History from the University of Manchester and an MSt in Russian and East European Studies from the University of Oxford.

Follow Gergely on Twitter @karoly_gergely

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s