How Canadian filmmaker Drew Lint is queering the psycho-sexual thriller
Lint's first debut M/M defies the 'homonormative mainstream' to explore obsession and escape in Berlin
Queeries is a weekly column by CBC Arts producer Peter Knegt that queries LGBTQ art, culture and/or identity through a personal lens.
In the fall of 2013, filmmaker Drew Lint moved from Toronto to Berlin and found himself — as one might expect from somewhere widely considered the artistic runaway capital of the world — a cultural outsider living in a city full of various other kinds of outsiders.
"I was loosely writing during this period, making a lot of notes to myself about images — real or imagined — and experiences I was having," Lint says. "I was really inspired by how international the scene of expats, artists, freaks and queer people was in Berlin: so many people from all over the world converged in one place. It opened my eyes to a lot of new things, including the gay subcultures of the city."
When Lint's 2014 short film "Rough Trade" screened at Slamdance Film Festival in 2014, his friend and producer Karen Harnisch told him that if he wrote a feature, she'd come to Berlin to make it with him.
"So I turned those notes into a feature script and then we went down the rabbit hole from there," Lint says.
That rabbit hole ultimately resulted in M/M, his first feature film. After following in Rough Trade's footsteps by debuting at the Slamdance Film Festival last year, it's making its way to Toronto this spring with screenings at both the Inside Out Toronto LGBT Film Festival and in theatrical release at the Carlton Cinema. Lint's hometown is about to get a taste of his Berlin.
M/M is what Lint calls his personal take on a European psycho-sexual thriller. It follows Matthew (Antoine Lahine), a young Canadian who makes his way to Berlin for a fresh start — only to find himself feeling alienated by the isolation of being alone in a new city. That is, until he meets Matthias (Nicolas Maxim Endlicher). But Matthew's initial sexual interest in Matthias quickly unravels into full-fledged obsession as Matthew begins to try and transform himself into his projection of Matthias' identity.
"When you come to a new city, you have the option to reinvent yourself, or at least reshape your brand a bit," Lint says. "I think a lot of people do that unconsciously, but some also see it as an opportunity. For some reason, that seems to hold true particularly in Berlin. That idea was important to me when I started writing the story. I think the search for identity and community is central to the queer experience, and accordingly also to queer cinema, so it seemed only natural to me to represent that in M/M."
Lint wanted to take that concept and make a thriller, essentially.
"I've always loved Hitchcock and mystery movies, so I set out to write a queer film that also satisfied my own interests in film: a meditation on the thriller genre in the same vein as Andrzej Żuławski's Possession and Nicolas Roeg's Don't Look Now and Bad Timing."
M/M also came from Lint's own experiences grappling with masculinity and where he sees himself in relation to gender.
"I'm male, but often don't identify with the traditional male role society shoehorns me into," he says. "But then again, I don't really fit into an entirely femme category. That binary can be frustrating."
"There's a tension somewhere in my identification as both a queer person and a gay man. Men are socialized to act in certain ways, programming our behaviour. These actions are continually reinforced by society through cultural norms, which make difficult habits to break. So M/M is also an exploration of my attraction to and repulsion by hypermasculinity. The characters in the film get caught in a continually escalating competition of hyper-masc behaviour. I feel like society rewards gay men who prove their masc-ness because they fit into what we're conditioned to believe are 'real men.'"
I think the search for identity and community is central to the queer experience, and accordingly also to queer cinema, so it seemed only natural to me to represent that in M/M.- Drew Lint, filmmaker
Lint hopes that the film offers an alternative to some of the more "traditionally-minded forms of queer cinema" that are becoming more and more accepted within mainstream circles.
"We're kind of like the alternative of the alternative," he says of his fellow queer filmmakers. "I'd like to think we're pushing the envelope a bit more in terms of formal and narrative experimentation."
Lint says he and filmmakers like him owe a lot to the likes of Gregg Araki, Todd Haynes, Bruce LaBruce, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Pedro Almodóvar and John Waters.
"They really paved the way for wild and crazy films like ours to exist," he says. "I'm so thankful for that. But I also think in this era of pinkwashing and pandering to a homonormative mainstream, queer cinema could use a little more disruption. Hopefully M/M disrupts as much as it entertains."
What M/M will also do is give any Toronto audience members hoping to follow in his Berlin-bound footsteps an education in any fantasies they may have about the city.
"Yeah, Berlin has a sort of exotic mysticism surrounding it, doesn't it? Especially for people who have never been," Lint says. "I know that's how I thought of it before having seen it for myself. And even after living here for years, I still think there's a strange and special quality to Berlin that can't quite be pinned down. Of course, it's no utopia — you have to take the good with the bad."
Lint said what he wanted to show was the Berlin he got to know when he moved there: "the strange, intoxicating and mysterious sides of the city."
"Berlin is so grey in the winter and as cabin fever starts to set in, there's a kind of giddiness in the heavy air. I think that slightly mad feeling is present in M/M: late fall on the verge of winter. The film hints at the idea that despite being a queer playground, Berlin is also a big city, which can be tough and alienating. Like any city, it is what you make of it."
"People come to Berlin to find themselves and escape their pasts, which is a funny quest to begin with. We can't escape our pasts by running from them."
M/M screens May 30th at Inside Out followed by a theatrical release at Toronto's Carlton Cinema from June 1-7.