Phaidros (2018)

Director: Mara Mattuschka
Writer: Mara Mattuschka
Cast: Julian Sharp, Alexander E. Fennon, Nicola Filippelli, May Teodosio, Tamara Mascara
Part of: Diagonale
Seen on: 15.3.2018

Content note: transmisogyny

Emil (Julian Sharp) is an actor, currently working on the role of Phaidros opposite Werner Maria (Alexander E. Fennon) as Sokrates. But their stage relationship isn’t exactly cooperative and Emil is struggling with his own performance, looking for a big break. His private life is also not exactly satisfactory, although easy: he lives with the costume designer Maurizio (Nicola Filippelli) who takes care of his every need and is very much in love with him. But Emil is looking for something else.

Phaidros is a strange film – as a Mattuschka film is wont to be. It works in many ways, but in others not at all. Especially the transmisogyny in it left a bitter taste in my mouth.

Phaidros is set in Vienna’s gay subculture (and gay in this sense in the strict sense of homosexual men, and not in the looser sense of queer), or rather in a very specific subset of that subculture. A lot of noise is made about that fact and I have to admit that it does feel a little fetishistic in the way it is set in scene by a (I think queer) woman no less.

But it didn’t bother me half as much as the way the film treats Lorelei (May Tedosio), a trans woman and Emil’s love interest in the film. The thing is, Emil is gay. Very much so. At one point he is supposed to undress in front of a woman (played by a drag queen, Tamara Mascara), and the thought alone to be naked with a woman, without any sexuality being implied there, is enough to send him into crisis mode and he screams out that he is gay and he can’t do it. But how is it that he can be in love and lust with Lorelei if that is his reaction to being naked with a woman? The only explanation here is that the film and Emil don’t actually see Lorelei as a woman – probably because she has a penis (and yes, of course the film makes certain that we all get to see her genitalia because a film with a trans character really can’t do without undressing them for the cis gaze). In short, the entire Lorelei part of the story is messed up transmisogyny and I hated it.

But there were good things there as well. I was very entertained by most of the other stuff in the film and I enjoyed how it turned stranger and stranger until it completely derailed and unraveled. They also found great locations and there is generally an interesting aesthetic to the entire film.

There is enough in the film to keep it interesting, but the transmisogyny really is a tough pill to swallow and I had a very hard time looking past it, wondering if I even should. It speaks to Mattuschka’s force as a filmmaker that I at least tried.

Summarizing: Very much its own thing.

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