Reviewer: Richard Maguire

Writers and Directors: Sam H. Freeman and Ng Choon Ping

Sexy, dangerous, violent are just three words that describe Femme, a new British short playing at SXSW, a multimedia festival usually held in Texas each March for emerging talent, but this year taking place remotely. Sam H. Freeman and Ng Choon Ping’s film is full of surprises and each of its 18 minutes is played on a knife-edge. It’s thrilling stuff.

But the film begins with quiet. A young boy wearing make-up is crying, and his father is trying his best to console him, but also warn him that in the future there will always be boys that want to hurt him. To see a father accept his queer son like this is heartening, but his warning is heartbreaking nonetheless. We next see the boy, fully grown and proudly still wearing the distinctive blue eye shadow, with his friends going into a nightclub.

Shakespearian actor Paapa Essiedu is stunning as Jordan, wearing a see-through net t-shirt and denim hot pants, happily dancing until he sees his ex with another guy. Ignore him, his friends tell him; dance it off, another suggests. But it seems that Jordan might need drugs if he really is to have a good time, and so when a drug dealer offers him a ride in his car, Jordan agrees.

As the drug dealer Harris Dickinson, star of the much underrated Beach Rats of 2017, is equally compelling, both charmingly green and unnervingly sinister. The tension in the car thick with close-ups and blue lights matching Jordan’s eyes; sexual attraction mixes headily with latent violence. The scene plays out the uncertainty with skill.

Some short films sometimes feel like a part of a bigger picture, but Femme is perfectly formed; it’s never in a rush to get things done, but neither does it try to allude to other narratives that could be fleshed out in a feature. Femme is about one night only. It needs no further embellishments.

While best known for his role in I May Destroy You, it’s apt that Esseidu has also graced our screens in a filmed version of Hamlet for the Royal Shakespeare Company because Femme is also a kind of revenge tragedy with Jordan, like the Prince of Denmark, seeking justice for his father. This short film is call to arms, and is reminiscent of the unapologetic New Queer Cinema of the 1990s where responses to homophobia were no longer restrained.

After receiving its world premiere at SXSW it’s certain that this film will reach a wider audience as the festival season kicks into action. It demands to be seen by the LGBTQ+ community, and by those who oppose the human rights that that community are fighting for. Femme is intoxicatingly combative, and Esseidu’s Jordan is a hero for our times.

Femme receives its world premiere on 16 March 2021

The SXSW Festival runs here from 16 March to 20 March 2021

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The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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