Evi Romen writes and directs Why Not You, her directorial debut after a successful career as a film editor. The thematically complex drama sees the world of an outcasted young dancer rocked after surviving a shooting in a gay-club which claims the life of his popular best-friend. Why Not You a feast for bold ideas, tackling the concepts of survivor guilt, misconceptions about religion, and small-town prejudice.
Mario (Thomas Prenn), a frustrated young dancer stuck in the limbo of small-town existence, works in the local abattoir and trades sexual favours for less than desirable men. Upon being reunited with his popular best friend Lenz (Noah Saavedra), now an actor in Rome who convinces him to visit the city, they spend a night in an Italian gay bar, a devastating terrorist attack sees Lenz gunned down with Mario one of the few survivors. Returning to his hometown, Mario faces the scorn of his neighbours who question his survival and project their Islamophobic attitudes onto him, resulting in him turning to drugs before attempting to make his own conversion to the religion.
Mario’s small village is isolated to the point of requiring a cable car to reach. The sort of place where gossip is currency and any form of non-heterosexual lifestyle is taboo. Mario’s dreams of being a dancer are second to his grimy working conditions in the meat factory – yet that doesn’t stop him putting on a blonde permed wig and lip-syncing along to his favourite schlager pop classics. Yet Mario is a curious character – hard to read and with a sexuality that is not particularly clear. He’s had sexual relationships with the handsome Lenz as part of a threesome and ultimately rebuffs a kiss from his friend, yet there is a lingering romantic tension that could be envy of Lenz being free from the small town which still shackles Mario.
Romen directs the film with a dark eye. The village is dimly lit and feels antiquated – particularly when we compare a village hall party to the brightly exuberant glamour of the gay club in Rome. The attack is explored with a chaotic uncertainty, it’s not quite clear what is happening yet gunfire and the soundtrack of a drum-like heartbeat provoke chills. Romen captures after the attack with a terrifying stillness – silent shots of the wreckage of the club lend a haunting quality to the film, crafting a shadow that lingers over the remaining two thirds. This hits particularly hard when one remembers the film’s inspiration of the tragic Bataclan attacks in 2015.
The significance of the title becomes apparent in Why Not You’s depiction of Mario’s return and the shameless question asked by his neighbours: “Why is he dead, and not you?” channelling true survivor guilt. An uncomfortable encounter with Lenz’s mother and the PTSD of the experience sees Mario’s already uncertain and challenging existence thrown into further turmoil through drug abuse and chaotic behaviour at his dance classes and the loss of his job at the meat factory. Faced by the homophobic and Islamophobic attitudes of his small town countrymen examines the challenges for minority communities in small town environments.
Why Not You adds further depth to somewhat impenetrable psyche of Mario by capturing his fascination with the practises of Islam which he observes through Nadim (Josef Mohamed), a former school friend whom he coincidently reconnects with. Nadim showcases the peacefulness of the religion, with Romen channelling this in bright, airy visuals capturing the now picturesque beauty of the rural European setting. Whilst Nassim still represents some controversial views (he refers to his uncle as a faggot at one point), Mario is generally welcomed by his community to the point that this alerts the small-minded inhabitants of his village.
Romen packs the film with an impressive symbolism (seen notably in the final moments) exploring Mario’s entrapment and subsequent freedom from his situation. A complex and challenging performance from Thomas Prenn ensures that Why Not You is consistently compelling, whilst Mario is hard to read and trapped in his uncertain limbo the actor manages to humanise him to a detailed degree.
Why Not You – Coming to DVD and VOD May 24.