'Femme' - A Mind-blowing Film

"Femme" via IMDb.

Gay British filmmakers such as Andrew Haigh, writer/director of the acclaimed “All of Us Strangers,” have taken the art form in new and thrilling directions. You can now add the names Sam H. Freeman and Ng Choon Ping, the British co-writers/co-directors of the mind-blowing “Femme” (Utopia/BBC Films) to the list of filmmakers in the UK who, along with Haigh, are making indelible impressions in queer cinema.

After a well-received performance, popular, Black, London drag-ball performer Aphrodite (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett), aka Jules, heads to a shop to buy cigarettes. While still in drag, and waiting on-line, a group of thugs enters the store. Jules recognizes Preston (George MacKay), the one with the neck tattoo and yellow hoodie, as the guy who was cruising him outside the club during a smoke break. When the thugs start making homophobic comments, Aphrodite fires back, pointing out that she’d seen Preston checking her out. This enrages Preston who, along with his gang, follow Aphrodite out of the store, and then gay bash her.

Three months later, Jules is still not over the traumatic experience. Toby (John McCrea), one of Jules’ flatmates, tries to get him to stop playing video games and go out with him and their other roomie Alicia (Asha Reid). Jules digs in his heels, obviously still not fully recovered enough to socialize. But that doesn’t stop Jules from later venturing out to a bathhouse. It’s there that he encounters Preston, who not only doesn’t recognize Jules out of drag, but then takes him back to his shared apartment. 

Just as they’re about to have sex, Preston’s mates show up unannounced, and Jules is told to stay put in Preston’s room. Fearing for his life among Preston’s gang, Jules tries leaving, dressed in Preston’s yellow hoodie, and through some quick thinking makes up a story about having been incarcerated with Preston, allowing him to safely exit. But not before Preston asks Jules to put his number in his phone.

Unexpectedly, Jules and Preston begin to regularly see each other for sex. While Preston is clearly on the down-low, Jules has the upper hand in the situation. When Jules discovers a gay porn site where gay men make video recordings of themselves having sex with straight men as a means of comeuppance, he realizes that he may have found a way to exact revenge.

Equally unexpected is the way that a relationship of sorts develops between Jules and Preston, which only serves to complicate things. Jules’ first attempt at recording himself and Preston having sex goes terribly wrong and, once again, we see Preston’s dangerous temper. Nevertheless, they continue the sexual pattern they’ve established. And, when Jules is eventually able to record them with Preston’s consent, he has the difficult decision to make about whether to upload the video.

Adding to the intrigue is Toby’s protectiveness of his hurt best friend Jules. When Jules decides to make a return to the stage as Aphrodite for his own upcoming birthday party, Toby invites Preston (whom he meets after he spent the night at the apartment with Jules) as a surprise for Jules. Obviously, Jules isn’t the only one in for a surprise.

Stewart-Jarrett and McCrea are unforgettable as Jules and Preston. Each actor’s commitment to their respective characters makes the gritty eroticism and tension (thick as pancake make-up throughout) palatable, and it’s immediately understandable how both actors took home British Independent Film Awards in the Best Joint Lead Performance category. 

Rating: A-


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