The garçon in question in Lionel Baier's sweet, well-meaning ''Garçon Stupide" is not exactly stupid. He doesn't know what Impressionism is and hasn't heard of Hitler, though he does look both up in a dictionary. So really he's just undereducated. He does know a lot about sex, however. When 20-year-old Loïc (Pierre Chatagny) isn't cruising gay chat rooms for men to hook up with, he's nattering on about the men he's met to his increasingly exasperated best friend Marie (Natacha Koutchoumov), a student who works in a natural history museum.
The film initially seems to be out to rebuke him, but Baier and his co-writer, Laurent Guido, are ultimately rooting for the character to figure out that there's more to life than lust. Loïc works in the Swiss town of Bulle at a chocolate factory but decides after his fateful dictionary encounter that he wants to be an ''Impressionist photographer," which, if he could find a way to take such pictures, would really take him places. (Needless to say, had he been inspired by the second word he looked up, we'd have a much different movie on our hands.)
But sex, it seems, is where he excels, or at least that's what the film encourages us to believe, frequently showing Loïc having extremely credible-looking intercourse. Often before and during his trysts, the screen splits, and we'll see sex on one half and maybe taxidermied critters from the museum on the other. That juxtaposition's implicit criticism turns harsher during an orgy. The dead animals in the split screen are replaced by cold, cranking machinery, at which point we get it: The kid needs to get a new hobby. And instantly he does. There's a local soccer star who strikes Loïc's fancy, so he stalks him.
''Garçon Stupide" was shot on digital video and is the rare piece of European sexual realism centered completely on a boy's awakening. Young women have dominated the genre in the last 10 years, especially in France. So the film is a welcome, though inferior changeup. Baier and Guido clearly like Loïc, but they make him shallow to the point that he seems tragic. The death of one character is baffling -- the film just moves along after the bad news.
When the relationship with one man, whose face we never see, gets too emotional, Loïc snaps and decides he's not gay. It's the truest and most powerfully troubling moment in the movie. But the filmmakers aren't sure what to do with Loïc's self-loathing or his sudden psychotic behavior, so both go ignored. So does Marie's brilliant suggestion (bless her) that her friend consider using his photographer ambitions to take pictures of his lovers. Well, he does use his cellphone once. OK, maybe he really isn't that bright.
Wesley Morris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.