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I Am the Tigress – watchAUT Austrian Film Festival

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Directors: Philipp Fussenegger and Dino Osmanoviç

Philipp Fussenegger and Dino Osmanoviç’s new documentary I Am the Tigress is a strange beast. It feels like a warts and all reality show in which star Tischa “The Tigress” Thomas prepares for an upcoming European body-building competition, but the film spends much of its time focusing on her extra-curricular activities as a dominatrix and social media star. Tischa is also a bit of a diva, endlessly berating her manager for talking to her when she’s tired / ill / jetlagged and revels in the muscularity of her body – a physique she works exhaustingly to perfect. Showing at the watchAUT Austrian Film Festival, it leaves you wondering what side of The Tigress we really ought to be seeing.

This 75-minute film is constructed like a long stream of consciousness, frequently cutting between fly-on-the-wall style footage and social media posts filmed on a phone and interspersed into the movie, in which the subject actively celebrates her body. The changes of direction between scenes are sometimes startling, examining the life presented and packaged for onscreen consumption with the messier reality where Tischa’s multiple selves emerge. But it is hard to grasp the purpose of a film that clearly intends to promote “The Tigress” but sometimes favours the unreasonable and unpleasant sides of her character instead.

Tischa has so many identities in this film, all of which are potentially fascinating, but there is little work to explore them individually or as a collective. Tischa is a grandmother we learn at the beginning, having a quiet afternoon at home with her daughter and grandchildren, but after this opening sequence, they never appear again, and no family is mentioned. Then comes the punishing training plan in preparation for a competition that the audience never sees, and finally the dominatrix job, first as online posts and later filmed with a client. Nothing is explained or linked together so unless you already know a bit about Tischa’s life, this film can’t tell you much about who she really is.

Instead, everything just runs together and perhaps that is the way people are, multiple identities, multiple tracks, multiple interests, but it doesn’t make for compelling filmmaking when none of this is explained, leaving the viewer with more questions than answers. Even towards the end of the film when Tischa travels to Europe for the first time having never left America, the focus is not on the competition or even really the preparation but arguments with her manager. A quick aftermath scene takes place in a coach, followed by an extended sequence on a beach but the role of body building and the various highs and lows of competing just doesn’t feature.

Fussenegger and Osmanoviç’s film has the statement title I Am the Tigress but it’s not at all clear who Tischa is at all. There is a surface engagement with too many facets of her life to truly satisfy and very little explanation of the abuse she receives in the street from two complete strangers who hassle her about the physical shape of her body, questioning her femininity. Frustratingly incomplete, Tischa clearly has the most astonishing and complicated life, it is just a shame we get to understand so little of it.

I Am the Tigress is screening at watchAUT Austrian Film Festival from 23-26 March 2023 at Ciné Lumière, London.

The Reviews Hub Score:

Frustratingly incomplete

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The Reviews Hub Film Team is under the editorship of Maryam Philpott.

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