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(Check out Bears Rebecca Fonté’s Femme movie review. The film premiered at Berlinale in February and is in theaters now. Seen it? Join the conversation with HtN on our Letterboxd Page.)

Although the range of film covering the LGBTQ experience has widened, most focus on the trauma that follows violence and the various ways characters struggle to overcome it. Few choose to wallow in rage and even fewer turn that into a thought-provoking examination of the human psyche and the consequences of seeking retribution.

Jules (Stewart-Jarrett) is a star of the underground drag scene until he catches the eye of a homophobic-closeted ‘toughy,’ Preston (George MacKay). After an incident at a convenience store, Preston kicks the shit out of Jules while his buddies film it leaving Jules a changed man. Stepping away from the stage, he dresses more masculine, trying to disappear into baggier clothes. Then a bathhouse chance encounter proves to Jules what he expected – Preston‘s rage is based in his own self-hating identity. He embarks on a strange path, seducing/being seduced by Preston into a secret relationship, dangerously close to exposure at any moment. His plan, to film the two of them having sex and expose the supposed straight as gay on a revenge themed website.

Here’s where the ethical murkiness really sets in, as outing someone is really just another form of violence and Jules’ complicity in the cycle of trauma makes it difficult to ‘cheer’ for our hero. Initially, Jules’ motivations appear straightforward: He aims to procure a revenge-porn recording, which holds the potential to devastate the life and standing of his closeted adversary should it be circulated online. However, the intricate point of intrigue within Femme resides not solely in Jules’ objective but rather in his progressively ambiguous commitment to it. As brief, heated hate-fuck sessions with Preston, a seemingly affluent drug dealer, evolve into more intimate rendezvous such as dinner dates with fine wine and, eventually, tentative displays of affection marked by hesitancy and unease, Jules’ investment in the endeavor becomes increasingly enigmatic. Is Jules adeptly assuming a role away from the spotlight of the club scene, skillfully manipulating his mark through an outward guise of sweetness and submission?

Alternatively, does a latent aspect of his self-hatred fuel his surrender succumb to Preston, whose volatility and emotional immaturity cannot mask his true joy that comes from living his truth. Stewart-Jarrett’s portrayal resonates with authenticity and emotional depth, drawing audiences into his quiet rage, but it also makes us want to see him rise above. At the same time, MacKay manages to force the viewer to constantly revise their assessment. The reality is his victimization by his own circumstances serves not only to demand pity but also to prove, in contrast, the strength that Jules summons to recapture his life and get back on stage.

By the end of the film, his relationship with his abuser has become so complicated (what is genuine and what is part of the revenge plot), and turned upside-down, I found myself unable to recognize what I wanted out of the story. Which is probably a good thing, as the directors (Sam H. Freeman and Ng Choon) seem most intent to prove how difficult is it to salvage identity and empowerment both from acts of hate and with acts of hate. Femme makes for a great suspenseful two-hander, with complicated and subtle performances vying for the audience’s brains as well as their hearts.

– Bears Rebecca Fonté (@BearsFonte)

Sam H. Freeman and Ng Choon; Femme
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Bears Rebecca Fonté is a transgender filmmaker, festival programmer, and journalist. She founded Other Worlds Film Festival after two years as the Director of Programming for Austin Film Festival. Her SciFi shorts ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE, PRENATAL, and THE SECRET KEEPER have played 150+ festivals including Fantasia, SciFi London, Boston SciFi, FilmQuest, Austin Film Festival and Dances With Films. Her LGBTQIA Horror short CONVERSION THERAPIST made its world premiere at Inside Out in Toronto and US Premiere at aGLIFF. Her feature thriller iCRIME, which she wrote and directed, was released on DVD, VOD and streaming by Breaking Glass/Vicious Circle Films in 2011. Bears Rebecca also was one of the producers on the Sundance Jury-Award Winning short THE PROCEDURE. In 2021, after five years on the Board of Directors she was made Artistic Director of aGLIFF, the oldest Queer film festival in the Southwest.

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