Femme is a dazzling short film…
It first premiered at SXSW Online 2021 as part of the festival’s Narrative Shorts Competition and has been recently nominated for a BAFTA for Best British Short.
Femme follows Jordan (played by the magnetic Paapa Essiedu), on a night out that goes terribly wrong. By centring the story on a Black queer man, Femme reinvents and interrogates the crime thriller genre which notoriously celebrates toxic masculinity.
I have always seen short films as an almost artistic double dare, a challenge for a writer to concentrate a compelling narrative arc within a maximum of 40 minutes. Ng Choon Ping and Sam H. Freeman, both co-writers and directors, definitely make the most out of the film’s 18 minutes, delivering a satisfying narrative. The casting of Paapa Essiedu and Harris Dickinson in the lead roles definitely bolsters this.
Paapa Essiedu brings roundness to Jordan – at first, Jordan appears soft, wearing a diamante studded top, shorts, and blue eyeliner, gently cocking his head towards the camera, as if for approval. In the end, Jordan is calculating, clear and decisive in his actions.
Watching Femme, I felt like Jordan was an extension of what I May Destroy You’s
Kwame’s storyline could have been if events took (an even) darker turn. BAFTA Rising Star Nominee, Harris Dickinson plays drug dealer Wes, without falling into any cultural stereotypes, clearly attracted and curious about Jordan’s queerness.
The camera’s frequent use of close-ups catches the furtive glances shared between
Jordan and Wes, alluding to the latter’s questioning identity. As we head towards the climax and resolution, the use of close-up shots becomes more frequent. This is notably seen when Wes leaves the door open when he goes to the bathroom, gently inviting Jordan to join him. Here, the camera clings to both of their faces, capturing each facial expression as well as the sound of their movements. For me, this captured the risk of this encounter but also the intimacy of letting someone see the wholeness of who you are.
The film starts with a flashback scene with a younger Jordan and his dad. Jordan’s dad tells his son that he accepts him for who he is but gently warns him that others might not be as accepting. To see and hear such straightforward acceptance of his son’s queerness from a Black father was heart-warming, but its framing at the start of the film hints at further conflict to come as we are cautiously reminded that as a queer person, Jordan will have to fight for his right to exist. This foreshadowing is heightened as the first time we see Jordan, he is bold and confident, enjoying a night out with friends in an LGTBQ+ nightclub. This confidence takes a dip, however, when he sees an ex with their new partner.
The politics of being seen as a queer person is cleverly explored in the physical and emotional safe spaces, we see Jordan. The community in the LGBTQ+ nightclub and then at the end of the film where he remembers his father’s words and draws on that strength to stand up for himself. This desire to be seen will surely resonate with anyone who has ever felt marginalised or overlooked and provides context for why Jordan finds himself on a long drive in a drug dealer’s car despite his friend’s protests.
Although Femme is directly interacting with the crime thriller genre so certain elements of the genre can be expected I was genuinely surprised by the level of violence in the film’s final moments. The shock value of this ending was heightened by the fact that this does not appear to be a spur-of-the-moment decision, instead, Jordan takes a deep breath and remembers his father’s words.
I found this repetition compelling as where his father’s message in the beginning has a supportive tone, its repetition at the end, seems like it is almost sanctioning this final act of toxic masculinity. Here, I believe is the film’s strength – its subtle commentary on what it means to be femme or masculine as well as it is reminder of its fluidity. This is captured ironically in the final image of the film, with Jordan walking away, shakingly reapplying his lipstick.
Artfully tackling the politics of wanting to be seen and validated as a Black queer person in a cis-heteronormative world, Femme is deserving of its BAFTA nomination and is a must see!
Femme is a BIFA winning and BAFTA Nominated film