German filmmaker Tor Iben reteams with actor Julien Lickert, his collaborator on 2017 queer thriller The Year I Lost My Mind, for Orpheus Song – a succinct seventy-one minute drama in which Iben plays with Greek mythology, queer identity, and a culture obsessed with instant perfection.
Philipp (Sascha Weingarten) and Enis (Lickert) are two gym-going buddies, regularly working out in Berlin. Gay and flirtatious Philipp playfully engages with the happily heterosexually-coupled up Enis with the pair bonding over their egotistical desire to gain more muscle mass. Yet when Philipp wins a complimentary trip to Greece and invites the initially unwilling Enis, their relationship takes a new turn.
When stepping into the sun-stroked Greek locales, a hike that the friends take through the wilderness results in the pair getting lost. Frustrated and starving, with a bristling and near-bursting sexual tension, the film subsequently takes a surreal, mythological turn as Philipp and Enis encounter the ambiguous Hercules who brings music and pomegranates – after feasting on these, the two German men find their relationship progress to another level.
Iben is an interesting filmmaker and his narrative blends the ordinary realism of metropolitan Berlin with the magical mythological qualities of Greece from its wilderness and historic ruins to curious nymph like characters. With content like this, it is no surprise that Orpheus Song is beautifully shot by cinematographer Manuel Ruge who manages to evoke a fantastical quality in the scenic Greek locations. As these locales transgress, the relationship between the two men also does so – whilst initially a platonic one with a subtle hint of flirtation in Berlin, by the time events move to Greece this is a relationship infused with the pressure of their unfortunate situation of being lost in the wilderness, but one in which the sexual tension has escalated to new levels – initially releasing in the form of machismo brawling, Philipp and Enis soon find this turning into heated romantic passion.
Coming to a head in a beach scene that feels like a queer homage of From Here to Eternity’s iconic romantic sequence, Iben directs the beautiful Lickert and Weingarten with a romantic whimsy that captures years worth of simmering romantic tension. This scene is the only sexual encounter in the film – and whilst undoubtedly powerful in its short and sweet approach, the relationship between Philipp and Enis may have felt a little more fleshed out if more was made of their romantic connection in Greece. Interestingly, when the magic of the Greek setting is reverted back to industrial Berlin, Iben centres more on the idea of queer acceptance with Enis attempting to return to his traditional heterosexual dynamic – reverting to the previous repression – and Philipp left reeling and attempting to place his now confused and exposed romantic feelings.
Lickert is sublime as the repressed Enis – a man attempting to ‘pass’ in straight society – and captures the character’s inner struggle in a subtle, unassuming manner. Weingarten also shines as the more outwardly emotive Philipp, battling his own demons of aspiring physical “perfection” and navigating his queer identity. The pair have a natural and engaging dynamic, believably transgressing from friendly gym-going bros to two men caught in a complex, heated romantic duel.
By blending the magically surreal with the sharp and pressing theme of queer identity, Iben crafts an intoxicating and punchy piece. Lickert and Weingarten deliver subtle and heartfelt emotive turns which helps Orpheus Song shine as an impressive, accessible queer feature.