Label Me: BRWC Raindance Review.
Label Me is an enigma of a film when it comes to runtime. Running for only 1 hour, the film is not long enough to be a feature yet not short enough to be a short. It plays like an incredibly detailed snapshot of repressed sexuality in a modern and timely setting — a raw and impactful snapshot, but one lacking enough depth to be anything more than that.
Syrian refugee Waseem (Renato Schuch) lives in a shelter in Germany selling himself sexually to any man who will pay. Lars (Nikolaus Benda) is a wealthy German who decides to do just that and hires Waseem only to be confronted by his rules that he seemingly implements to remain confident in his heterosexuality. Despite an apparent hostility between the two, they clearly share a connection that they struggle to reconcile with. From there, they emotionally wrestle with one another, trying to find the courage to say how they feel.
Writer/director Kai Kreuser has done some beautiful work here. The way he manages never to make it feel as complicated as it could have been being his most significant achievement. Waseem, in particular, is a very complex character. He is confronted with his sexuality constantly throughout but fights it at every turn. The men he lives with in his refugee shelter cause him no end of grief, and yet he still resists Lars, a man more than capable of helping him. All of this manages to work, and that is thanks in large part to Kreuser’s sharp script. Creating fully realised characters was essential if Label Me were to work on any level and fortunately he has pulled that off.
Cinematographer Malte Hafner has also done a terrific job controlling the camera. He allows the actors to evoke so much emotion between one another and the audience. He makes sure they are the centre of everything that happens so as to capture when they are overjoyed or distraught vividly. The final shot is one of my favourite of the year and sparks what I hope is the beginning of a prolific partnership between him and his director.
However, as great as their director and cinematographer was Label Me is all about Schuch and Benda who both deliver immersive and dedicated performances. They convincingly portray men who want to be together but always find themselves apart. The impossible chemistry they share generates from their eyes and how they look at each other. For a few brief moments, they find themselves locked in silence, constantly thinking but not talking; these moments are engrossing and take advantage of the genius casting decisions.
Now I have to mention where this film falls short. As audacious as Label Me is, it lacks depth and scope to convey a grand message about sexuality accurately. What Keruser achieves in the short runtime is impressive, but I can’t help but feel that even with just another half an hour this film would have had an exponential return. Telling the story in this manner meant it was confined only to the world of Waseem and Lars never stepping over the boundary to affirm that anyone other than just these two men feel this way.
Every other gay man in the film is lifeless and primarily voiceless coming across as mindless sexual deviants with no feelings of their own. This is only compounded upon by the fact that the setting is a very real very troubling one involving a Syrian refugee far away from his war-torn home, which impacts so many more people than just Waseem. Label me is a mere character study in a setting with the potential to speak to the entire world.
Label Me’s bold audacity makes for an impactful viewing experience. Keruser seems a more than capable director and will be one to watch in the coming years. As for his stars, they are brilliant together and will hopefully find themselves with an abundance of eye-catching work to come.
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