Peccadillo Pictures’s POUT Festival had the great fortune of giving the UK premier of Romeos, a film by Sabine Bernardi. Having seen the film ourselves, we were rather taken by it. So when presented with the opportunity to talk to the woman behind such a great film, we agreed without hesitation.
Sat on the sofas of the Apollo Cinema in the bustling heart of London’s West End, we sat having a drink after the film had been introduced to its full house screening.
‘It’s great to be in London, really. I was very excited when I got the news that we are going to have a premiere and a screening here,’ she says sipping her drink. ‘Plus, it’s very exciting to be here with both cast and crew in London, especially as a lot of the team are based here.’
Romeos is the story about Lukas, a young German trans male, struggling with love, and confidence in his gender. Striking, complex, and beautifully filmed, it’s a surprising shift from the usual focus on gender transition instead looking at emotional life post-transition. ‘I was attracted to writing Romeos during film school where I was doing a documentary about two couples in love – a straight couple and a gay couple. One of the males was born biologically female,’ recalls Bernardi. ‘I was very touched by people I got to know. I wanted to tell a story about people I met.’
Taking this as inspiration and also wanting to make a feature movie, Bernardi came up with Romeos. Its appeal, she admits, is not just about transgender issues, but has wider connotations about self, and it’s this that makes it an easy film to connect to. ‘The gay community that I know and that in Cologne, has all these struggles too – finding identity and coming out.’ But what people and audiences around the world seem to chime with most is the film’s humour. ‘People respond very much to the humour, and this is my experience at many festivals and many audiences, so they are somehow connected to the lighter side of the story in different ways. There’s usually discussions afterwards and people get to talk, and the wonderful thing is that people react to the film – all the people who come to the film find it interesting and I feel there has been a good reaction.’
Casting Rick Okon as the shy and unsure Lukas has drawn some criticism in not using an actual trans male for the role. But Bernardi feels strongly that she has made the right decision. ‘We opened up the casting to transgendered actors – there just wasn’t very many replies,’ she insists. ‘But it’s also much more about the acting. I mean, you can’t act “transgender”, but you can act if you love somebody. So I was very clear that I needed a good actor, and I chose a male actor because it was the only really honest way to portray the character in the film. I didn’t want a female actor because then it is all about gender swapping and I really wanted to tell a story about a trans guy who isn’t transitioning. I wanted someone who was male and with a male body.’
Indeed, the talent, charisma, and chemistry that Okon brings to the film, especially with co-star Maximilian Befort, results in some exceptional performances.
Bernardi’s vision and understanding of the characters and the narrative is no more apparent than in the fact that both countertenors Klaus Nomi and Andreas Scholl appear on the soundtrack. ‘I was really looking for voices which are transporting both the male and female,’ says Bernardi. ‘Scholl’s voice is fascinating and we thought of it fitting into the movie because there’s so much space for fascination in the story. As for Nomi, he’s an idol, and is in many ways connected to the topic.’ But the biggest surprise in using these two artists was getting the permission to have them in the film as they are two such well-known artists. However, Bernardi and her team’s ambition paid off. ‘We were very, very happy to get both songs for such a small film.’
All in all, Bernardi’s efforts are returning tenfold and then some. Despite the usual difficulties in producing a budget film, she says that in some ways it’s actually been an easy process due to the enthusiasm and interest of those involved in the film. As well as entertaining, it’s definitely a film that lingers, and all those who were watching it that afternoon and all those who have seen it since, will probably agree.
Romeos is available on DVD from Amazon UK.
Featured Image: Maximilian Befort (left) and Rick Okon (right). Photograph: Courtesy of Peccadillo Pictures.