DVD Review: ‘Romeos’


German director Sabine Bernardi explores the unfamiliar with her feature directorial debut Romeos (2011), a touching if slightly tame insight into a male-to-female transgender forced to come to terms with the heartache that comes with first love. Our protagonist also has to deal with the fluctuating emotions that come hand-in-hand with both his treatment and overwhelming desire to be accepted into society as a human being.

Lukas (Rick Okon) has moved to Cologne to complete his voluntary social service year at a nursing home. After an initial struggle, he soon finds his feet with the help of best friend Ines (Liv Lisa Fries) and the two soon find themselves in the throes of big-city lifestyle. Finding himself more and more comfortable with his identity, Lukas attracts the attention of local stud Fabio (Maximilian Befort), and the two enter into an enjoyable relationship, only one that’s hindered by Lukas’ secrets.

Writer and director Bernardi does well to centre Romeos on the will-they-won’t-they relationship between Lukas and Fabio, and refreshingly rejects the need to trail off into subsidiary plot strands – unless they link to Lukas’ transition from an insecure woman to a confident, comfortable man. For example, the immense strain his friendship with Ines is put under during his transition is touched upon in a subtle, yet satisfying manner. Unfortunately, for a film that relies a lot on the singular struggles experienced by Lukas, the narrative often feels a little prolonged for its own benefit.

That said, the writing taps into a particular mindset that will likely appeal to insecure pre-adolescents and those in the LGBT society who are experiencing the same sort of struggle in their determination to fit into society without feeling like outcasts or freaks. In that sense, the delicate material at the films heart is handled with extreme delicacy by Bernardi and plays out with excruciating honesty, with the spot-on use of makeup and prosthetics and the subtly infused cinematography only adding to the overall authenticity and believability achieved.

It’s the acting, though, that’s Romeos true trump card. Okon shine in the role of Lukas, more than adequately projecting his insecurities and desire to have a transition removed contention and tormenting. It’s a performance that will not only ring truth in a lot of people experiencing that similar transitory period in life, but will likely have a positive effect on Okon’s professional career. Fries and Befort provide stalwart support, with Befort particularly excelling in his representation of the ideal male figure, yet also providing that deeper, more compassionate side to his lothario.

Romeos may avoid becoming too dark and exploring the fundamentals that come hand-in-hand with Lukas’ gender reassignment, but there’s no hesitation in saying that what Bernardi has achieved is a frank, shrewd, well-written and very well performed film that incorporates prominent, under-explored transgender and LGBT themes that challenges preconceived notions and ideas. It’s a welcoming outlook to have committed to film, and presents Bernardi as both a writer, director and voice to keep an eye on.

Jamie Neish