Label Me @ Outfest

Sex is such an odd element of human existence. It is necessary for us to continue as a species and yet, even today, cloaked behind embarrassment and other emotions brought on by what is deemed acceptable. We need it. Love it. Enjoy participating in it and yet we have a problem when it is up on the screen in films.

That being said, I have noticed (and this might be a gross oversimplification) that the same kind of hang ups do not exist within the LGBTQ film community. It is treated as a normal and essential part of the human experience. Exists in films in a revealing, but non gratuitous way.

Label Me, directed and written by Kai Kreusel (directed German television series Kuntergrau), is just such a film. It deals with several issues besides sex as well. A film exploring what it means to be human while acknowledging that it involves sex.

Waseem (Renato Schuchn – from television’s Dogs of Berlin) is man who is from Syria and is seeking asylum in Germany. While waiting for this process to unfold he lives with other refugees in a sort of camp in Cologne. Not legally able to work, but of course needing some money to survive on, he has turned towards sex work. For men. As a heterosexual man he is conflicted. Disgusted by what he does and yet appreciating the money it brings him.

Able to function in this world because of his rules, Waseem does not allow his clients to kiss him and he is always the top. This all changes when he meets Lars (Nikolaus Benda – Two Lives). Lars is a well to do professional man who somehow (intially through money) gets beyond the facade that Waseem puts up.

It becomes apparant that this is not merely a financial relationship any longer. How is each of the men going to handle this? And will this newfound aspect of their relationship put Waseem in physical danger with those he is sharing the camp quarters with?

Dominance, intimacy, immigrants vs. native born people, longing for closeness, labels, and power struggle in a relationship are subjects touched upon in Label Me.

In a very natural way the relationship between sex worker and client changes into something more. Something like a friendship. And not in the unrealistic Pretty Woman way. Rather something complex and confusing to both at times. They both take turns being dominant or showing the other who is boss, yet both want the closeness that is developing. It happens subtly…realistically.

In a mere 60 minutes a lot happens. Yet nothing feels rushed about it. Director Kreusel does not allow any filler into his story. It is tight, moves quickly yet does not suffer in the least.

Sometimes there are people we meet who immediately or almost so, melt the walls we have constructed around ourselves. Force us to face our fears. Allow some vulnerability to creep in. Waseem and Lars are those people for each other. In different ways. Both struggle to maintain the lanes or roles they have selected for themselves, but the closer they get the more intermingling there is.

The film is in English, German and Arabic.