A pop star and a lesbian punk fall in and out of love in this hyper-stylised French debut

Queens Of Drama

Source: Cannes Film Festival

‘Queens Of Drama’

Dir. Alexis Langlois. France/Belgium. 2024. 112 mins

Straining so hard for cult status it practically bursts its corsets, Queens Of Drama is the eagerly-awaited feature debut of rising queer French cinema star Alexis Langlois (whose short The Demons Of Dorothy won a Silver Leopard at Locarno while Terror, Sisters! did the rounds of LGBTQI+ festivals back in 2019). Loud – on every level – proud, and not as much fun as it should be, this is a deranged musical of sorts which centres around a bumpy love affair between a sugar-coated pop star (played by Louiza Aura) and a lesbian punk idol (Gio Ventura).

It comes in hot and stays that way

Coming across like the difficult-to-love child of John Waters, early Almodovar and last year’s metal-feminist She Is Conann, Queens Of Drama screens as part of Cannes Critics Week. A day-glo, slit-screen, candy-coloured explosion of queerness, it can be interesting and funny when it wants. But endless fighting between the two shrieking leads, an inability to trim the fat and a soundtrack that leans heavily on Europop of the early 2000s – the French version – make it much tougher going than the billing suggests. Still, cameos from Asia Argento, Alma Jodorowsky and singer/songwriter Bilal Hassani will help haul in the faithful.

Deliberately, Queens Of Drama has no mounting sense of dramatic pace: it comes in hot and stays that way. Langlois starts the proceedings in a glossy video den inhabited by the former ’Steevyshady’ (Hassani) — the OG stan of 2005 singer Mimi Madamour (Aura). Steevie tells his audience that it is now 2055 – why not? – and he’s going to relate the story of Mimi and her one true punk love Billie Kohler (Ventura), although Steevie hated their relationship at the time and did everything he could to sabotage it. (Steevie uses so many English words – gossip, fake news, catfishing, etc – it’s easy to see this prologue as a shot to the heart for French language purists.)

The film them moves back in time – if not in aesthetic – to ‘Starlets In The Making’, a fake French version of The Voice or America’s Got Talent, in which conservatoire student Mimi and underground lesbian star Billie are trying out in auditions. There’s an initial attraction, borne out when Mimi goes to see Billie perform a song on a Suzuki bike about ‘pumped up chicks/bums so thick’ and is rewarded with Billie’s still-warm buttplug. Pretty soon it’s singlets and sex, constant bickering and the first strains of their anthemic love song about fisting (‘I’ve fisted you to the heart/I can feel we’re a work of art’).

But, the path of true love, etc. Billie is rejected from Starlets, while Mimi is chosen. She is transformed into a blonde-haired pop bimbo who refuses to come out of the closet while Billie glowers away in the background. Mimi then has a worldwide massive smash hit which the film is only too happy to play over and over again: it’s called Don’t Touch. Don’t go there.

One of the biggest problems with Queens Of Drama is that neither lead actor has an impressive enough voice to carry all that trashy Euro-pop across the line (tracks are provided by Rebeka Warrior, Yelle, Pierre Desprats and Mona Soyoc). It’s a little more digestible when the music stops — they break up, Mimi falls into Britney-like bouts of headshaving and fighting with the paparazzi/fans (Steevie being one of them) and Billie starts to soar up the charts. Ultimately, first-timer Langlois is unable to find a discipline within the excess that might keep these Queens on course over feature length. In fairness, his shorts were also over-long, so this won’t be a deterrent to his core crowd.

Queens Of Drama is clearly not all about the plot. This is queer French culture, and it’s full on. There’s an entire plot strand about Mimi and Billie mirroring the life and love of their queer idols, but it gets completely lost in translation. Top surgery, wig-snatching, fetish-level drag cheekbones, derangement, hysteria, day-glo drama and a Greek chorus of trans legends don’t need subtitles. Possibly the songs don’t either, although one line of the ‘Fisting to the Heart’ anthem is particularly delirious: ‘The lube becomes superfluous/dilated like a succubus’.

As Billie herself might advise, pack your ‘hard bitch nails’. 

Production companies: Les Films du Poisson, Wrong Men 

International sales: Charades, sales@charades.eu

Producer: Inès Daïen Dasi, Benoit Rolland

Screenplay: Alexis Langlois, Carlotta Coco, Thomas Colineau

Cinematography: Marine Atlan

Editing: Alexis Langlois, Gabriel Gonzalez

Production design: Anna Le Mouël, Barnabé d’Hauteville

Music: Pierre Desprats, Mona Soyoc, Yelle, Rebeka Warrior

Main cast: Louiza Aura, Gio Ventura, Bilal Hassani, Alma Jodorowsky, Nana Benamer, Asia Argento