This shocking and rather provocative movie … the sophomore feature from Austrian actor turned director Klaus Händl deservedly won the prestigious Teddy Award for Best LGBT Feature Film at this year’s Berlin International Film Festival. It is there surprising that since then the reviews have been lukewarm at best, and even odder that it is not the violent aspect that has evoked the criticism but the way that Händl goes into great detail with the gay protagonists relationship as it shoots from one extreme to another. We certainly differ from this viewpoint as this powerful intense drama has remained very firmly in our conscious since we viewed it several days ago, and not for the controversial part of the story line, but for the sheer intensity it created as the couple in crisis struggled to deal with their feelings which seemed so out of control.
When the movie opens life seems positively picture-book perfect for the couple, and Stefan (Lukas Turtur) is a french horn player in the orchestra that his partner Andreas (Philipp Hochmair) manages. The live with their beloved tomcat Moses in a rather beautiful house in what looks like the Garden of Eden (for some unexplained reason there are several biblical references throughout). Blessed with a great set of really close friends who love to get together at their house for garden dinner parties where both the wine and the conversation never stop flowing. When the guests leave, and sometime even before they do, the two men cannot keep their hands off each other and have long make out sessions. This being a European film, those particular scenes are both extremely sensual and very explicit too.
Even when not having sex, the pair are an extremely tactile couple and seem to spend most of their time hanging out the house completely naked. However all this blissful happiness abruptly ends one day when Stefan has an uncharacteristic sudden outburst of violent anger with very grave consequences, which leads to a totally appalled and confused Andreas just shutting Stefan out of his life for all intents and purposes.
At first there is a lot of wailing and head banging, but when the grief starts to dissipate the two start to lead separate lives in their own home and now they are always fully clothed too. Then one day a reckless Stefan has an serious accident in the garden which causes him to the lose the sight in one eye, which results in a slight thawing on Andreas’s part. As both men are still struggling to try to understand the complex reasons behind Stefan’s scary outburst, they are also trying to evaluate their feelings towards each other to try and discover if they can ever salvage enough of their once perfect relationship to build a future and go forward.
The result of the temper tantrum is highly controversial aspect of the movie, but equally so is Andreas’s decision not to immediately leave the relationship after it occurred. This was not based on any practical reasons, but purely from his instinct that even though he coudn’t bear to allow Stefan to be intimate on any level at all with him, there was obvious still some very fine vein of hope/love of the possibility they could one day get through this together.
Drenched with some fine music on the soundtrack which like the plot went from happy to moody and melancholic, it is the two central nuanced performances of Turtur and Hochmair that keep you engaged to the very end and make this rather intense relationship so very believable even in the parts which were tough to rationalize over. And of course full credit should be given to Toni for being the perfect tomcat that every house would want.
It’s interesting to note that when the director was an actor he appeared in a couple of films directed by Michael Haneke, so maybe we shouldn’t be too surprised by the inclusion of the violent incident after all.
“Tomcat” will be shown at Frameline 40 Wednesday, June 22 at 9 p.m. at the Castro Theater in San Francisco.