SXSW Online 2021 Film Review: Femme ★★★★★

I May Destroy You’s Paapa Essiedu gives a captivating performance as the fiercely femme queer Londoner Jordan in Ng Choon Ping and Sam H. Freeman’s gripping and unsettling short film Femme which world premiered at SXSW Online 2021 today as part of the festival’s Narrative Shorts Competition. Beautifully dressed in a sparkly top and studded leather choker, with striking white eye makeup, Jordan is set for a fun night out clubbing with his friends as he gets over his ex, whom he happens to spot from the dancefloor kissing someone new.

Femme. Courtesy of SXSW Online 2021.

When Jordan’s friend Alicia (Asha Reid) decides that they need to add some drugs to the evening she calls a dealer, Wes (Beach Rats’ Harris Dickinson), who is immediately taken by Jordan’s appearance. Still thrown by seeing his ex and flattered by the attention, Jordan takes Wes up on his offer of going for a drive to his house to collect the drugs. Once in the car with him it’s a decision that soon makes Jordan, and us as viewers, uncomfortable as Wes’ intentions are unclear, questioning Jordan about his makeup and what it’s like inside the queer club he’s just come out of.

Femme. Courtesy of SXSW Online 2021.

Ng Choon Ping and Sam H. Freeman, who co-write and co-direct, skillfully build and maintain the tension as it leads to a heart-racing Sadfie-esque sequence dynamically shot by James Rhodes and edited by Mdhamiri á Nkemi. Dickinson delivers typically subtle, nuanced, and engaging work as Wes, convincing as a recognizable London drug dealer while eschewing stereotypes. Following his funny and heartbreaking turn in I May Destroy You, Paapa Essiedu’s rich character work here conveys so much in just a few minutes, portraying Jordan’s soulful vulnerability and steely resilience, while creating a mesmerizing femme queer antihero.

Tackling toxic masculinity by subverting a genre that traditionally celebrates it, Femme is an edgy, confronting thrill-ride; a deeply satisfying short and an impressive calling card for the filmmakers.

By James Kleinmann

Femme plays SXSW Online 2021 March 16th – March 20th.

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