A queer psycho-sexual thriller that is equal parts minimalist tribute to Berliner nightlife and maximalist send up of erotic genre flicks, Canadian director Drew Lint’s debut feature film M/M strikes a deft balance between formal experimentation and uncluttered, if mercurial, storytelling. Ahead of the film’s release in Toronto, and just after its premiere at the city’s Inside Out film festival, The Globe and Mail spoke with Lint about his work on an erotic thriller for the art-punk set.
I love the idea of a queer psycho-sexual thriller. With so many queer narratives that begin and end with the experience of coming out, it seems the need for more expansive, and, in the case of M/M, genre-inflected queer stories is long overdue. How did you develop the concept?
[Coming out] is a common experience that almost all queer people have, so I understand it having a major focus and place in queer cinema. I just thought I want to make a film that offers something else. I’m happy to have the experience to see other types of queer films, so I thought, “Why not make one of those?” – a film that satisfies me both in terms of being queer content but also satisfies me as a filmmaker. I wanted to take these elements from genre films, thrillers especially, and twist them around and make my own queered version of them.
We have a life after coming out!
Have you seen developments or changes in your work between M/M and your earlier short Rough Trade?
I think M/M is a logical follow up, especially now that I look back, because M/M has been more than a four-year process. It’s interesting to think about those two together because I think, with Rough Trade, I was poking around with queer cinema tropes and wanted to create something that felt authentic to me. I was experimenting and then it became a much more fully realized exploration of queer desire and this search for community and identity in M/M. I think they hang together quite well; they both are about searching for my place in the context of masculinity and these masculine tropes.
Do you consider yourself to be going against the grain of a relatively more mainstream queer filmmaking tradition in Canada?
I think so, yes. Of course there’s a history with amazing filmmakers such as Bruce LaBruce who have been real trailblazers in making queer cinema that is provocative and challenging. I understand that people want their films to be seen by larger audiences, and so I think it’s easy to get caught up in the habit of making films that will be palatable to a more mainstream audience. I’m just not interested in doing that and so it ends up being potentially more difficult to make films that don’t do that. It wasn’t easy to get this film made – although this is also my first feature, which is certainly part of it. Even with my producer, Karen Harnisch, having come off of Sleeping Giant, which played at Cannes and was a big critical and financial success, we couldn’t get any funding. We did a crowdfunding campaign and we were lucky to have an investor come on to the project. We scraped the rest of the money together. Maybe I’m taking the longer, more difficult path, but I think it’s worth it, to be able to make the kind of films I want to make.
M/M makes such great use of both distinctively queer space as well as a radical queering of otherwise empty spaces and architectures. Has your experience of living in Berlin changed the way you make films in any way?
We used architecture a lot in the film. We wanted to contrast the flesh of the characters against the hard edges of the architecture. Berlin is a funny place because, on the one hand, it’s kind of like a queer paradise and you’re afforded a lot of freedom here in a variety of ways, but it can also be really alienating, which I suppose is true of any new city you go to. In terms of my filmmaking, I have been enormously changed by living in Berlin and had my eyes opened to a lot of different things that I wouldn’t have been exposed to, if not for living here. Berlin is a pretty special place. The nightlife scene here is famous for a variety of reasons, but there is something special about the dance floor that is important to queer culture. It’s like a community center.
How would you compare it to your experience of making films in Canada?
I think that there is a DIY spirit that pervades here in Berlin, where you have this idea that you can do anything and it seems possible. You can also do that in Canada, especially if you’re shooting outside of the city. I think Toronto poses a few more barriers to a completely all-out, guerrilla style.
The film places both violence and intimacy as well as experimentalism and narrative on the same plane. The films ends with a scene where this taut, psychosexual dynamic between the two leads comes to a head. How did you find a balance between those aspects?
For me, the most interesting thing about making films is experimenting with structures of narrative and I appreciate having freedom with that. And you’re right, those are the two strongest elements that make the film what it is and that was the main goal, to achieve those. I hope that people agree with me in thinking that we did.
M/M opens June 1 in Toronto
This conversation has been condensed and edited