Nathan Stewart-Jarrett as Jules/ Aphrodite Banks. Image credit: Agile Films

Femme ★★★★★ – Edinburgh International Film Festival

4 mins read

Following a homophobic attack, drag queen Jules (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) retreats from the limelight and isolates himself from his community. But when he bumps into his attacker Preston (George Mackay) in a gay sauna, he decides he wants revenge. Femme is a tense power struggle between who we are, and who we have been forced to be.

Within the safety of her community, Aphrodite Banks is a six-foot-one stiletto-wearing sensation dripping in confidence and basking in power. But beyond the smoking barrier of the gay club she calls home, she is Jules, a young gay man about to embark on a journey through masculinity, manipulation, and sex.

Described by directors Sam H. Freeman and Ng Choon Ping as their contribution to the neo-noir genre, Femme leans heavily into the dark aesthetic without ever losing its voice. Sometimes when directors want to replicate their favourite films it can feel like a cheap imitation, but Freeman and Choon Ping firmly establish their personal style right out of the gate. And in their directorial debut no less.

“Don’t get me wrong ‘Femme’ is incredibly violent. Yet there is kindness in its cruelty.”

This is partly because of Jules. While dark settings and neon nights are not exactly ground-breaking in the neo-noir genre, the fact that a queer person is our protagonist feels revolutionary. Freeman and Ng Choon Ping have opened up the genre to new possibilities just by proving that LGBTQ+ people belong in the space.

George Mackay (left) as Preston in Femme. Image credit: Agile Films

What sets Femme apart from its spiritual predecessors is the empathy that it gives its players. Oftentimes times neo-noir is locked into revenge narratives with directors often intent on inflicting the highest amount of violence and pain possible. But Freeman and Choon Ping allow Jules to seek catharsis through plotting, and community. Don’t get me wrong, Femme is incredibly violent. Yet there is kindness in its cruelty.

“Nathan Stewart-Jarrett sells the two sides of Jules and packages them in an unreadable guise.”

Speaking of Jules, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett is magnetic to watch. We meet Jules at full power with his drag persona Aphrodite Banks owning the stage. The way that the camera remains behind Aphrodite until she is ready for you to see shows that she is untouchable.

This only makes his downfall all the more gut-wrenching. He is a shell of himself, his strength has been physically extracted from him. Yet Stewart-Jarrett balances on a knife edge between safety and destruction, keeping us guessing at every turn what his true intentions are. He sells the two sides of Jules and packages them in an unreadable guise.

Faced with such a screen partner in Stewart-Jarrett, George Mackay might have disappeared into the background. But rather he disappears into the role, unrecognisable as a hardened criminal fighting against what he wants.

Femme is a gritty entry into the world of neo-noir that perfectly translates the multifaceted world of drag into the deceitful language of crime. It is a stunning first try by two of Britain’s most promising directors.

Edinburgh International Film Festival runs from 18 – 23 August. For more of Brig’s coverage visit our website here.

Featured Image credit: Agile Films

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Film and Tv Editor at Brig Newspaper. Currently studying Journalism and English at the University of Stirling

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