Sunday, 16 November 2008
Director: Nana Neul.
Principal cast: Anjorka Strechel, Lucie Hollmann, Manuel Cortez, Florian Panzner.
Gender perception can play tricks not only on those perceiving but also those perceived. And in a world with deeply rooted gender roles and appearances, can you achieve your ultimate goal by pretending to the bitter end that you are something that you are not, too infatuated with the process and too confused to foresee the consequences? The new German coming-of-age drama „To Faro” does not attempt to be moralistic, nor does it victimise any of its characters – it simply shows a possible turn of events and offers a plausible (if not the only) way out.
Mel is a tomboyish girl in her early twenties who works in a catering factory wrapping up endless meals to be had by passengers on the airplanes she longingly observes taking off and landing in the nearby airport in her spare time. Her drab routines at work only liven up somewhat when she meets her new colleague – a Portuguese guy called Nuno with his non-German mannerisms and attitudes. Also at home, Mel’s life is dull and hardly bearable. Her brother Knut, whose pregnant girlfriend is about to move in with them into their father’s house, constantly teases her about not having a boyfriend and that by the looks of her she could be his brother. And the truth is – her appearance and manners suggest a lot more a young heterosexual male than a young heterosexual female. In fact, so much more that when the 14-year-old Jenny, whom she one night almost runs over on a badly lit road assumes that the driver is a young guy, it seems comic but still quite believable. Persuaded by Jenny and her equally underaged friend, Mel helps them get into a local night club where she quickly falls for the young girl and decides to play along by inventing a new identity for herself – Miguel from Faro in Portugal. Soon enough the love interest appears to be mutual but in the morning they part and there seems to be no need for any further deception.
Intent on gaining more respect and less scorn at home, Mel pays Nuno to play along as her boyfriend. The initially sceptical family quickly embrace her „love interest” and are more than willing to include him into their circle. At the same time Mel is unable to forget Jenny. She is in love with her but obviously clueless about how to proceed and what to do about it. And when they accidentally run into each other again, Mel simply can’t help throwing herself into the flames of her agonising love. Romance between the two girls becomes reality but how much reality is there really about it? Inevitably, her lies and deceptions lead to entanglements which hang over her like the sword of Damocles. It’s time for the ultimate revelation which will lead to the ultimate judgement.
„To Faro” is not the first German film to deal with mixed identities and the price there is to pay for leading a double life. Although the film’s promoters emphasise its kinship with „Boys Don’t Cry”, my immediate association is with Angelina Maccarone’s „Unveiled” (Fremde Haut). Both films are set in the German province, they both use airports as a metaphor for longing to escape one’s miserable existence and not the least, in both films women are forced to pretend to be men to achieve their goals. But while the Iranian refugee in „Unveiled” uses crossdressing to avoid being expelled to her home country where she is persecuted for her homosexuality, Mel’s deception is her own choice – it’s the only way that she deems possible to be intimate with her beloved. In both cases the truth cannot remain concealed forever but while the main character in „Unveiled” is put on a plane back to Iran, Mel can decide her own fate and move on with her life. Growing up surrounded by heteronormativity (which has befallen most of us), Mel never had a real chance to explore her sexuality. The ordeal of her first love has served as a bucket of cold water which prompted her to act. The acclaimed Danish writer Per Hultberg has once said that one must break up with one’s home in order to find one’s true self. In many cases this is a forced action. Nonetheless, a necessary one. A lot can be said about the ethics or rather the lack thereof when it comes to deception, especially in love matters. However, the sad reality is that especially in love matters critical faculties tend to fail even the sharpest minds, let alone confused youngsters with a sexuality diverging from what is broadly perceived as the norm. Only personal experience and courage to be what you really are will help you find your own path, not a blind adherence to someone else’s perception of normality.
„To Faro” is a rather slowly-paced drama with an unmistakable German flavour. Although the acting is a bit uneven at times and certain scenes can seem implausible, the film has a solid plot and can be recommended to all those concerned with the issues of coming to terms with one’s own sexuality. Despite the fact that the main protagonist of the film is in her early twenties, the issues that „To Faro” touches upon certainly aren’t restricted to that age category.
You can watch the film's trailer here (in German)