BERLIN, Feb 24 (Reuters) - When Jules, a cross-dressing star of London's queer scene, is brutally attacked by a thug with something to hide, he concocts an elaborate revenge worthy of Shakespeare: he seduces his hypermasculine assaulter and films them having sex.
An intense tragedy by Sam H. Freeman and Ng Choon Ping, "Femme" explores the crushing effect of traditional perspectives of masculinity on two men's lives, as Jules plans "revenge porn" - the practice of distributing sexually explicit material without the subject's consent.
Jules, a drag queen played by Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, thus seeks to turn the tables on Preston, his muscular assailant who compensates for his repressed sexuality with manly chat and outbursts of violent rage.
"It's a big subject. It's big what happens to Jules," Freeman told Reuters of the film, which premiered at the Berlinale film festival last Sunday. "We were very interested in the archetype of the kind of avenging anti-hero. I think queer characters often aren't allowed the agency to play that role."
The attack turns Jules into a shell of his former extrovert self, but a chance encounter with Preston in a gay sauna offers a fleeting opportunity for vengeance.
The duo's relationship begins with a series of steamy yet, initially, strictly unemotional rendezvous in the back of cars and down back streets, before Preston gradually abandons himself to the full power of Jules' artful allure.
But when the besotted Preston discovers Jules' plan to out him with a sex tape, he flips into an uncontrollable rage, rapidly drawing the film to a tragic climax.
For George MacKay, playing the role of Preston was a chance to tap into currents in his own personality.
"In myself there are elements of masculinity - which are presently being kind of recalibrated socially - that I was really interested in exploring through my work," said MacKay. "And Preston was a very sort of fertile ground to explore those themes of masculinity."
While the film will especially appeal to LGBTQ+ viewers, its moving human story and racy plot has something for everyone, Freeman said.
"This is a film that is for queer audiences, but it's also a film for all audiences," he said. "The queer is a label that we proudly attach to it, but it's not all that it is."
Reporting by Hanna Rantala, writing by James Imam; Editing by Rosalba O'Brien