Reviews TV + Movies

“Label Me” Is A Distinctive Portrayal Of Power Dynamics And Queerness

The 27-year-old director of the 2019 one-hour feature drama Kai Kreuser says “Label Me” was supposed to be a cheesy romantic movie. We’re glad that it isn’t one. Kreuser took his own time during its development, which is probably the reason that this feature is layered, and portrays power dynamics among a closeted and out queer persons exquisitely.

Waseem (Renato Schuch) embodies the look and gait of a heterosexual “manly man” who, due to circumstances, is hooking up with gay men in Germany in exchange of money. He’s a Syrian immigrant in Germany. He lives in a dingy compartmentalized shelter house, which is shown blazing red, bustling with people and is an epitome of a life in transition. This is at stark contrast with the blue, posh, minimalistic house of a German (Nikolaus Benda) with whom an impossible love story develops. The security in the house of the latter is pitted against the vulnerable temporariness of the shelter house.

The opening shot couldn’t have been more dramatic. Waseem is waiting at the platform for a train to come, he looks left and smiles at a woman who leaves; the next moment his phone beeps. One can easily deduce that it’s a hooking-up app where people are connecting “to meet,” but for Waseem it’s a money-making tool.

We find Waseem chasing a man who just strode past the stairs after sending Waseem the message. We’re at this wealthy German’s place. The German pounces on Waseem to kiss. Waseem pushes him away, ridiculing him and keeping the records straight: “No kissing.” And he fucks (top). The German takes up the doggy position, however, he finds Waseem masturbating to make himself hard. He stands up and helps him out.

Waseem thought it to be a one-time thing, but he finds himself at the German’s apartment once again who was intrigued by Waseem’s ways and machismo. He inquiries his whereabouts, but Waseem wasn’t interested in any exchange of information. The clever German strikes a deal: to each question Waseem answers he’ll give him 20 bucks. All set. Now we now that Waseem is from Aleppo and is learning music. He’s straight and the first time he had sex with a woman.

Waseem returns back to the shelter house, but he goes to his room after taking a bath. He does it frequently one notices how frustrated he gets braving the cold water. Multiple people stay in those dorm-rooms. In his, the one who’s on the opposite side cruises Waseem often. This same person is seen getting assaulted by a group of men, but Waseem keeps a distance. That’s one of the shocking moments. However, it’s the same person that later tries to protect Waseem when a fight breaks out in the cafeteria.

The no-emotion-showing attitude is meticulously carried out by Waseem, however, the subtlety is depicting in his layered acting when he gets melted seeing his sketch in the German’s notebook. On one occasion, the German was wanted at work, he leaves without giving Waseem money and asks him to entertain himself in his apartment till he returns. Waseem plans to steal a few things — MacBook, some clothes, jock, some records etc., he keeps everything in a bag and treats himself with the leftover pizza. While idly browsing through the owner’s things, he finds a notebook. He’s amused to find naked men’s sketches — focus was mostly on genitals, but he’s shocked to find his picture but it’s his face.

We don’t know why he’s moved, but it’s clear that he felt seen. Seen in this brutal powerful country who sheltered the refugees. He doesn’t steal anything and happily shares his idea with the German. Upon probing why he didn’t, he replies: “It’s easier to fuck you than sell these things.”

Waseem keeps a distance from the German, but he keeps on following him as he can’t help himself but meet Waseem. This lands Waseem in trouble once, and he doesn’t want it again. Once again in the train Waseem’s cellphone buzzes, but this time he’ll be paid money to bottom, which is does. Was he trying something new? Or did he do it only because he was in need? The pain was certainly there, the hurt was definitely there; but the mixed signals during the intercourse don’t convince you that it’s because of penetration alone.

He was returning to his home when we find the German searching for him and he follows the former to his dorm-norm only to make things worse for Waseem. Waseem gets brutally assaulted in the shelter by fellow occupants because of his being a homosexual.

It’s deeply moving to witness those power dynamics: between the German and Waseem — it’s evidently class; between fellow refugees in the dorm-room and Waseem — disdain toward homosexuality, and the heterosexuals assaulting Waseem for the sin that he has committed; however, they’re the ones who’re forcing the dorm-person, who’s infatuated with Waseem, to blow them.

Once in a while a movie will be made with this sensitivity, marrying the refugee crisis and performing one’s sexual identity in a foreign land, and “Label Me” is one such movie.

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Saurabh is working as a writer in a research and advisory IT consultancy firm. He frequently writes about gender and sexuality, and book reviews on an array of platforms.
Saurabh Sharma

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