Adolescence is tumultuous enough. Add trans-identity into the equation, and there is ample opportunity for angst, confusion, disappointment--and inspiration. In "Romeos," an invigorated German drama, transman Lukas takes on the body transformation issues that trans-folk deal with--tending to the masculinization of the body though weightlifting and taking testosterone--and the social issues that surround either being surreptitious about part of who you are or being open about it and dealing with the hateful or ignorant responses.
For Lukas, played with sincerity and acuity of emotion by Rick Okon, moving into a dorm in Cologne sets a few conflicts into play. First of all, there is the issue of where to assign him in the gender segregated building. He easily passes as a guy but is placed in the female quarters because of his birth certificate, much to his chagrin. Though this is passed off as an administrative error to the other students and his secret is kept for the time being, Lukas takes it as a thwarting of his budding masculinity, an essential component of which is the ability to fraternize with the guys.
Lukas isn’t without support. Mrs. Kampmann is an administrator who is fighting for him, and Ine is his best female friend who keeps his secret and accompanies him in situations that are trying. However, his supportive relationship with Ine becomes conflicted as he becomes increasingly self-centered in his preoccupation with the guys who are taking amicable or sexual attention of him.
In the midst of Lukas’s propulsive pursuit of newly possible popularity, Ine is there to remind him to be true to himself and his real friends. To the film’s credit, though this is Lukas’s story, we can still easily sympathize with Ine, as she misses Miri--Lukas’s former female identity--and grapples with his growing up and away from her. Besides his dormmates, there is Fabio, the pretty-faced bisexual alpha male who sets his ever-lustful eyes on Lukas. Of course, Lukas heeds not the warnings about this bad ass, and the question arises whether or not Fabio feels something for Lukas beyond what he feels for the multitude of others he seduces, and how the revelation of Lukas’s biological sex will sit with his machismo.
"Romeos" is thoroughly involving because it is more than an entertaining coming of age story full of heartfelt versions of clubbing, flirting, and awkward and eager forays into sexuality. It also brilliantly captures the longing of its FTM protagonist. As Lukas gazes enviously at sexy guys insouciantly sunbathing or dancing shirtless at clubs, while he himself has to refrain from removing clothes, his pain is palpable. This is as much about the way writer/director Sabine Bernardi sets up these scenes as it is the acting. Lukas, however, is a lovable fighter who does not wallow in the displeasures of his predicament. The film is about his perseverance in carving out a fulfilling youth for himself.
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