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PLGFF film review: ‘Romeos’

­­­When I arrived in the rainy late afternoon to see PLGFF’s premiere of the German film, and first from Director Sabine Bernardi Romeos, to be released later this year it was not to a packed house. Organizer Gabriel Mendoza didn’t consider it one of the fest’s blockbusters, though he loved the film. Indeed, compared to the line around the block when I left for 7pm’s Weekend, it wasn’t. But it was a triumph. Small it may seem, but every review I’ve read thus far of the film following a young trans man struggling with life and attractions through his transition, has been celebratory, and I wholeheartedly agree.

Another common sentiment I share about the film is that the well-written story is carried off flawlessly by lead actor Rick Okon. Okon plays the 20-year-old Lukas who is “accidentally” put into the female form during his year of German service. He wants desperately to get out and just be one of the guys, even though it is here that he has a Ine (Liv Lisa Fries) an old best friend (former lover?), who is also an out lesbian. In her sexually fluid, but not necessarily trans-inclusive, group of friends, Lukas falls for alpha hottie Fabio (Maximilian Befort).

Okon, with his awkward stooped shoulders and sad determination plays the part perfectly. The film is physically intimate without being gratuitous in a way that made me initially think they chose a trans actor for the part. I would say that I’m fairly savvy in this area so I found uncertainty unsettling. Though I disagree with John Cameron Mitchell’s opinion that one can always tell a transman from a cisman (which he once told me during a 2006 interview), I usually have decent ‘dar. All the more credit to Okon, who approaches the role with absolute sincerity.

Indeed, though the film is very much about his experience it also touches profoundly on the experiences of those around him, from Ine’s feeling of loss at her female bestie, to Fabio’s struggle in coming out to his family or realizing an attraction to a trans man, to the head of the dorm, and older woman who fights for Lukas’ transfer and even goes out on Saturday night dates.

While Romeos does not paint a rosy picture, neither does it focus solely on Lukas’ pain. There is teenage awkwardness and disappointment, but there is also fun, joy and hope. There are characters and eye candy for a myriad of genders and sexualities, so it’s a film mixed audiences can all enjoy together. This portrayal brings us all into the human experience of gender, sexuality and growing up that is so skillfully examined by this “little” German flick. Highly recommended.

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