Eye For Film >> Movies >> Label Me (2019) Film Review
Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode
Sex work is just a job, right? Only idiots imagine that those they hire to do it will really be attracted to them. But there's still an additional stigma, an awkward set of assumptions, when somebody engages in sex work that doesn't accord with their sexual orientation. Waseem (Renato Schuch) is a pragmatic man. He's fled Aleppo, an experience he doesn't want to talk about, and having found at least temporary sanctuary in Germany he's willing to do what he has to do in order to make ends meet. But there's a long list of things he won't do, some of them rooted in Middle Eastern attitudes to sexuality (being penetrated is the really stigmatised part) and some of them, like his reluctance to engage in conversation, about trying to keep his distance emotionally. He has no friends in the area. He tells himself he doesn't need any. But when he meets wealthy client Lars (Nikolaus Benda), his carefully constructed boundaries are tested.
Lars has a spacious loft apartment, designer clothes and a quietly expressed loneliness of his own. Though disappointed by Waseem's rules he respects them - for the most part. "Let's play a game," he says, and after some haggling they agree that Waseem will get 20 euros each time he answers a question. Somewhere along the way, the ice is broken. There's a hint of genuine fun, the possibility of friendship, and as Lars continues to pursue Waseem night after night the latter is gradually drawn out of himself. But in the shelter where he lives, rape and blackmail are the price of being identified as queer and any sign of emotional vulnerability puts one at risk of attack. Men who have suffered unimaginable things cope with their stress by finding others to victimise.
What does it mean to be gay, straight or bisexual? Is Waseem discovering another side of himself? That doesn't really seem important here. There's no evidence of him developing a sexual attraction to Lars. What matters is whether or not he can accept friendship and a means of escape from his trauma. Lars, meanwhile, has to be willing to give up the control usually associated with buying someone's company as he finds himself unable to get the troubled Syrian out of his head. The power dynamic between the two men keeps shifting throughout, neither altogether willing to surrender control although they both want the closeness that could make room for.
Quiet, restrained performances by the two leads make this film much more affecting than it might have been and add to the sense of mystery as both men keep their secrets. Director Kai Kreuser handles it in a delicate, non-judgemental way, whilst Malte Hafner's cinematography emphasises the difference between the two worlds. Although there are some fairly explicit sex scenes - amply justified by the subject matter - in the end the smallest of gestures conveys a great deal more.Reviewed on: 22 Jul 2019