Eat. Sleep. Rave. Repeat. That’s a reductive way of looking at the plot of Drifter, Hannes Hirsch’s look at young queer life Berlin.
Moritz (Lorenz Hochhuth) has moved to Berlin to be with his boyfriend Jonas (Gustav Schmidt), but it’s quickly clear that Jonas isn’t happy with this scenario. When Jonas tells Moritz he wants to split, Moritz is left adrift in the city. Weaving his way through Berlin’s club and sex scene, his eyes are opened to the possibilities around him and a new found family starts to coalesce around him.
Hirsch balances Moritz’s slow process of opening up, from naive, guarded youth, to fluid party guy mostly in small steps. It’s a gentle performance from Hochhuth who never quite loses his innocent soul as he experiments with the cornucopia of sexual choices available to him. The most jarring moment comes when we cut from Moritz’s first foray into domesticity post-break up, to him with a shaved head, muscles on show, cutting his toenails. The country mouse has become a fully-fledged city club-kid.
Escaping into hedonism is a solid trope of queer experiences, and here Moritz’s new world is shown for all its sweaty, cramped, bass-thumping highs. The obligatory ‘my friend has an overdose’ has an almost callous indifference to it at odds with the constant highlighting of consent in all sexual practices. Moritz never seems fully committed to his new life.
By rarely revealing Moritz’s inner thoughts, Hirsch and Hochhuth draw us in with endless questions. After his transformation into Berlin party boy, one friend jokes he has become a “real gay” now, a clone of the others around him. Is Moritz actually enjoying this life? It is only in the final frames we get an answer. As a tale of liberation, Drifter felt cold and undecided.
It’s in the presentation of the fluid world of sex that Drifter really succeeds. Opening Moritz’s eyes to a complex but compassionate world of bodily pleasures where there is little judgement other than “are you into it or not”, the people he meets paint a larger tapestry of human sexuality than we normally see on screen. Hirsch and co-writer River Matzke are careful to introduce everyone as characters before revealing their sexual proclivities and consent is always first on their minds. The sex here isn’t to shock, or even to titillate, but to expand Moritz’s worldview.
The setting and scenarios in Drifter are nothing groundbreaking but in approaching sexuality through a frank and sensitive lens it rises above the cliches. Sitting comfortably under 90 minutes, it doesn’t tax your patience with its lack of narrative drive, instead it lets you drift along with it till the credits roll.
By Chad Armstrong
Drifter receives its Australian Premiere at the 10th Queer Screen Film Festival 2023 in Sydney Australia on Saturday, August 26th. Click here for tickets and more information.