James is entranced by Sabine Bernardi’s frank, fresh, and accessible tale of trans romance in the film Romeos.
Lukas (Rick Okon) has moved to Cologne to work in a nursing home. However, he’s been put into the girls domitory for reasons he can’t quite explain. Trying hard to get to grips with his identity with the help of his lesbian best friend Ine (Liv Lisa Fries) he soon finds himself on the gay scene and somehow manages to attract the attention of promiscuous lotahrio Fabio (Maximilian Befort). But Lukas’ insecurities and distance from Fabio’s lusty advances only seems to spur him on, and soon they enter into an intense and troubled emotional fling. But can Lukas ever share his secret with him?
Dispel any preconceptions about tragic star-crossed lovers and vials of poison. Despite the title the narrative couldn’t be much farther from Shakespeare’s seminal play. What’s more, as LGBT film starts to embrace genderqueer and trans narratives, writer/director Sabine Bernardi makes this an incredibly fresh, frank, and accessible film with an entrancing narrative. The story is slick, snappy, and devoid of any pious airs that some trans and genderqueer films can sometimes indulge in. In fact, as a love story, the trans element adds an ingenious complexity – rather than playing a stern didactic to the overall plot.
Bernardi’s direction brings both wonderful subtlety but also blasts of high theatre. The strength is in the personal closeness of the direction – both physically and emotionally – that nurtures a connection between the audience and the characters on screen causing a definite empathy with the crests and falls of their stories. Bernardi really has a knack for creating the emotional atmospheres that drive the film – always subtly and without ever feeling forced. Yet there are also surprising moments that shine with brilliant theatricality, which really lifts the film above its peers. One such moment is that of drag performer Ralf Rotterdam miming Andreas Scholl’s rendition of ’I'm a Poor Wayfaring Stranger’. It is nothing short of utterly haunting and enshrines a sublime cinematography that suddenly propels you into an ether without at all feeling inorganic, augmenting the climaxes beautifully.
The strength of the acting also serves the film excellently. Befort really smoulders as the sizzling hunk, but really packs a punch when it comes to playing the confused conflict and frustration that is inherent to his character. Fries as Ine is also painfully long-suffering in desperately trying to support Lukas in what he’s going through whilst dealing with her own issues. There is a real angst and bitterness throughout her performance. However, Okon takes centre stage, showing himself to be an all-round great actor. His performance makes it so easy to connect with Lukas’ transition, partly helped by Bernadi’s excellent writing. He brings a genuine understanding to Lukas despite the fact that Okon is not trans himself. What’s more, him and Befort bounce a firey and fractured chemistry on screen that really makes their romantic sparing incredibly enticing.
The only issue with the film is that the ‘will they, won’t they’ element drags on for a bit too long – to the point where it starts to irritate rather than delight. But this is by no means detracts from what is otherwise a masterful film. Wholly enjoyable and incredibly eye-opening, Romeos is a real game changer in how gender and attraction are portrayed on screen.
Romeos was screened as part of the POUT Film Festival which took place in London 21 – 23 June 2012. Check out our further coverage of the festival. Romeos will be released on DVD on 9 July 2012 and is available to buy from Amazon UK.
Featured Image: Maximilian Befort (left) and Rick Okon (right). Photograph: Courtesy of Peccadillo Pictures.