Sam H. Freeman and Ng Choon Ping’s feature-length debut Femme is each a film of our second and wildly overdue. A savage deconstruction of the types of drag all of us put on once we stroll out the door, it funnels very present themes of gender presentation right into a thriller context, and it lets its marginalized characters be complicated in ways in which go nicely past wardrobe.
Mainly, for those who’ve been ravenous for LGBTQ characters behaving badly onscreen, then Femme is right here to feed you. It is story of a drag queen who flips the script on his gay-basher — then issues get admirably murkier with every step, unearthing empathy from violence and sweetness out of pity. In what might’ve been a straight-forward revenge story, Femme rejects the straight in favor of one thing fascinatingly messier.
That is not all the time for the higher. One may want there had been a bit extra fatale on this Femme. Nearer in tone to the self-abusing cinema of Catherine Breillat (Anatomy of Hell, Abuse of Weak spot) than it’s to the lurid excesses of Paul Verhoeven, you may end up dreaming of a scene that echoes the one in Showgirls the place Nomi Malone maniacally drop-kicks a lodge suite stuffed with perverts. Femme dashes such desires. Revenge ought to all the time be a sophisticated dish, however generally you simply really need it served sizzling, ya know?
What’s Femme about?
Nonetheless, there may be hotness to be present in nice abundance in Femme. We first meet Jules (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett from Utopia and the 2021 Candyman) completed up as his stage-obliterating alter ego Aphrodite Banks, a towering glamazon who drives the gang at his native London drag membership to close hysteria along with his opening efficiency. Inside that kingdom, he’s queen. However Femme is smart to the darkness that lies simply past the 4 small partitions of protected areas. When Jules — nonetheless in drag — runs to the nook mart for a pack of cigarettes, that armor of fierceness he’s constructed all of the sudden transforms right into a goal underneath brutal fluorescent gentle.
And when a gang of belligerent drug sellers led by a rabid canine named Preston (George MacKay from 1917) set their sights on him, Jules finds himself cornered and desperately outnumbered. He tries to summon his internal Aphrodite and provides again as laborious as he will get, but it surely’s not a good battle, and Jules is left bleeding and half-naked on the pavement, rattled to his core.
Minimize to 3 months later, and Jules not leaves his condominium. His associates implore him to summon a few of his former power, however he can solely discover sufficient to play Road Fighter on the sofa. Then one fateful night time, Jules lastly manages to muster the need to move out to the homosexual sauna, when who ought to seem by the steam however Preston, his attacker. It is a accident too wild to be ignored, so Jules follows Preston to the locker room. However as a substitute of hanging again, Jules finds one thing a lot curiouser occurs. Let the fuckfest start.
Femme delivers a daring story of intercourse and revenge.
Credit score: Fantasia Worldwide Movie Pageant
It is implied that Jules is trying to honey-trap Preston with the intention to report considered one of their sexual encounters and put up the footage on-line, outing Preston and destroying his life. Nevertheless, Stewart-Jarrett performs these moments extraordinarily near the vest. As Jules googles “Outing My Straight Neighbor” porn, it is by no means totally clear whether or not he is crafting a plot or legitimately turned on. And it is in all probability each.
The connection between Jules and Preston grows extra sophisticated with each thrusting tryst. Preston’s posturing macho-top calls for – which embody for Jules to not gown “too femme” – start to dissolve as Jules insinuates himself previous Preston’s defenses. And Preston begins letting Jules see a vulnerability beneath that laddie drag. A easy kiss on the cheek lands like an explosion. And earlier than lengthy, Jules finds himself within the energy place. Though it ought to be famous that at the same time as we watch their dynamic shift, their sexual positions by no means do. Femme is aware of the facility in bottoming!
Femme asks who’s topping who — and the way.
Being drawn to hazard just isn’t in any method, form, or kind an completely queer trait. Simply ask any hetero dope who’s been swindled in movie noir. However this type of sexualized self-abuse from homosexual individuals is not seen on the display screen practically typically sufficient. We’re not normally given the house to be knotty and sophisticated. Too typically, we’re both relegated to victimized characters of uplift and canned decency, like Tom Hanks in Philadelphia, or we’re full-on villains, like Sharon Stone’s homicidal bisexual in Fundamental Intuition, or the queer-coded baddies of Hitchcock’s Rope, or practically each ’90s-era Disney animated function.
Seeing a sophisticated individual making good choices for unhealthy causes and unhealthy choices for good causes — and all the pieces in between — ought to be the usual for everyone. Alain Guiraudie’s 2013 thriller Stranger by the Lake stays maybe the gold customary on this darkish respect, as its lead character cannot cease being turned on by the dude he is fairly positive is off serial-killing all the different dudes on the homosexual seashore in his downtime.
Attraction to what unnerves us is common throughout the sexual orientation spectrum. And the seductive draw of hazard will not ever be stamped out, regardless of what number of fiercely written screeds about canceling unlikable characters get posted on social media. Human psychology is a dangerous enterprise. And at their greatest, the flicks will be the lantern lighting up these worst impulses – not simply to map a well past them, however to light up and seize these needs in and of themselves. They’re worthy of acknowledgment, as are all human traits. Denial leads nowhere good.
A thriller like Femme is simply the tragic flip facet to all the romantic comedies the place characters lie about themselves with the intention to appear cooler to win over the one they love. The identical rigidity is at play right here: When will the opposite individual discover out the key? And the way will this betrayal play out within the final act? The specter of violence is clearly keener for Jules than it was for, say, Jennifer Garner when Mark Ruffalo discovered she was really 13 Happening 30. Femme‘s our feel-bad model, the place it is violence that rings true. We’re all carrying some form of disguise on daily basis, and we’re all terrified we’ll be discovered.
Nathan Stewart-Jarrett leaves barely an excessive amount of to the creativeness.
As we gear up for the massive collision between the cautious lovers, Femme‘s reticence to offer us a correct window into Jules’s true intentions lastly outlives its usefulness. However defiantly, frustratingly, each Stewart-Jarrett’s efficiency and the script refuse to take a stand. The film feels as not sure about what Jules desires as Jules appears to be. Is that this nonetheless revenge for him? Or has his anger morphed into another form of ardour? Whilst tempers flare and fists fly, the worst Jules can summon up is, “I felt sorry for you.” The movie desires to have it each method, however its indecision practically finally ends up at neither.
Maybe the filmmakers bit into too bold or ambiguous a story for his or her first function. The final act turns too plot-focused, detouring from an intimate character examine right into a triumphant return to the stage, a birthday extravaganza, and associates with vendettas manipulating public scenes. And so as to add to the jumble, a few of this begins to be informed from Preston’s standpoint, once we’d been following Jules completely earlier than this. Then, simply as unexpectedly, the display screen empties out for our showdown – with a dozen balls within the air, the filmmakers determine to let most of them fall wherever. It is a disappointing simplification when so many earlier decisions had been something however. The gears of the script develop into noisy, drowning out its particulars.
Nonetheless, the movie does discover a properly enigmatic grace notice to depart us on, and Stewart-Jarrett and MacKay do ok work that they practically patch over the shoddiest elements of the script. They handle to make quite a lot of emotional sense from their character’s quite a few contradictions. MacKay is particularly wonderful on this regard, threading trauma and self-hate by Preston’s alpha posturing; even at his most confused, Preston feels liquid clear.
So, even when the journey Femme takes us on is usually as ragged as a scar, even when it is making us wince, it is nonetheless price working a finger alongside. Each inch, all over to its bitter finish. There are classes in its roughness, and sweetness amongst its uglier bits. And extra nonetheless to be taught from the make-up and cut-up frocks and hoodies and Polo shirts and buzzcuts that Jules and Preston and each single considered one of us masks ourselves in. All of us suppose the scars disappear, however they’re all the time there, screaming. And one attain underneath the armor, one really feel of that flesh beneath can undo all of it, leaving nothing however puddles of cloth on the ground.
Femme was reviewed out Fantasia Worldwide Movie Pageant 2023, the place it made its North American Premiere.