Gay love and sacrificial death in pre-revolutionary France; a minimalist offering from the French author (The Land of Darkness, 2001, etc.).
Sébastien is a 15-year-old goatherd. Balthazar is a Prince, a courtier at Versailles. He is riding in the country with friends when his horse throws him. He appears unconscious. Sébastien, who has inherited his mother’s herbal knowledge, revives him with plant dust, murmuring “I am yours.” Attraction; initiation; union; separation. This will be the arc of their experience. The illiterate peasant and the worldly nobleman are both virgins, but they know their destiny. One year later, 1750, Balthazar returns, pacifies the father with gold crowns, removes Sébastien to his chateau and installs him in a chalet. His widowed mother, the Princess Anne, is forced to accept the situation. The men become lovers (no details). Versailles seethes with malicious gossip. They say Balthazar is a sodomite, a rebel, an alchemist. Arsand has taken the novel of transgressive love and distilled it into a hundred short takes. Images of heedless love and societal oppression substitute for character complexity and development. The Prince has an early vision of them burning to death together. He seals his fate when he refuses the King’s summons to appear at court. Sébastien, excited by rough trade in taverns, has been unfaithful to him, but their love endures. The Prince is taken by force from the chateau. In a last bid to save her son, Anne organizes a ball; nobody shows. Balthazar is tried and burnt at the stake. From beyond the grave, he prompts Sébastien to cause his own fiery death, but not before his lover has become embroiled in a new liaison with a married man. The ensuing soap opera exemplifies Arsand’s love of snapshots (a jealous spouse, an ax murder), but is a distraction from the main storyline.
The momentous content doesn’t quite fit in this straitjacket form.