The power play and emotional stakes in Kai Kreuser’s Label Me linger in all the things that go unsaid. This heady little mix of sex, money, control, repression and expression may only be an hour long, but it delivers more than some films twice its length.
A Syrian refugee in Germany, Waseem, turns to sex work to make a living and meets Lars, a well off gay man. Part of his appeal is his antagonistic ‘rough trade’ attitude. “You cum, I get my money, I leave,” he says outlining the boundaries of their encounter with strict rules – no kissing, Waseem only tops. Lars can’t help himself but want to break through Waseem’s frosty shell.
Repeat encounters start to reveal more of both men and a complex relationship starts to develop.
Is Waseem actually gay, but repressing it? Or is it just Lars’ wishful thinking and need to rescue him? Can Lars and Waseem bridge the divide to actually become friends, or lovers? The script wisely refuses to deal with Waseem’s refugee status head on, but the reality of his situation hits home in the juxtaposition between Lars’ minimally chic apartment, and Waseem’s crowded communal space.
Kreuser nicely balances the relationship between the two men as the ground keeps subtly shifting in a mix of physical power, money, emotions and social standing. Waseem lives in a refugee camp full of toxic male energy, while Lars lives in a luxury apartment. As their worlds get closer the friction starts to add pressure.
Two excellent performances anchor the film. Renato Schuch plays the taciturn Waseem with a richly layered reserve, and while Nikolaus Benda’s Lars is less fully developed in the script his performance fills the gaps in the character.
My only real complaint with Label Me is the length, more time, and a deeper exploration into the social issues surrounding them both would have made for a more rounded film – but as it stands, this is an excellent, mature 60 minutes of cinema.
By Chad Armstrong
Label me is available on Amazon Prime Video.