M/M certainly feels autobiographical, even though it’s not.
Drew Lint’s first feature, which screens this week at the Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF), follows Matthew (Antoine Lahaie), a young queer Canadian navigating the complexities of life in Berlin — the city where Lint has lived since leaving Toronto five years ago.
Isolated, confused and hungry for connection, Matthew’s whole world shifts when he meets Matthias (Nicolas Maxim Endlicher), a seductive stranger with a dark edge. Supremely confident and overtly sexual, Matthew’s new acquaintance provides an ideal object of his affection.
Shot with minimal dialogue, M/M is a supremely sensual work that offers a new twist on the familiar story of simple admiration giving way to dangerous obsession.
It’s tempting to interpret the film as being based on Lint’s own experiences in the German capital hooking up with hot guys, hitting the clubs and wearily wandering the streets of his new home.
Even the fact that Lahaie (who plays Matthew), with his lanky frame, foppish hair and slightly crooked smile, looks a lot like Lint, which seems to support this interpretation.
But more than anything, Lint sees the film as a way of examining the identity swap thriller genre through a queer lens — films like Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo and Robert Altman’s Three Women were significantly more important reference points than his own life.
“I’ve always been inspired by mysterious art house thrillers,” Lint says. “I was curious to take that format and spin it into a queer story. It often tends to be a female driven genre, with films like Single White Female and Mulholland Drive.”
“But in making a gay male version of it, it becomes hypersexual, which ends up revealing some of the tension in those other films that isn’t always immediately visible.”
While not based directly on his own life, the film was certainly shaped by where it was shot. Lint had started developing the project while still in Toronto, hot on the heels of his first film Rough Trade, a psycho-sexual short about a hustler who picks up a john with a branding fetish.
The move to Berlin, which Lint describes as a “whim,” gave M/M its visual aesthetic. The city’s grayness, both the communist-era concrete architecture and the famously cloudy winters, offered an ideal contrast to the sensuality of the on-screen action.
Along with providing a perfect visual backdrop, the city presented significant challenges during filming, Lint says. Germany is famous for its complex levels of bureaucracy and getting the necessary permits to make a film feel like a near-endless nightmare. Combined with the language barrier and the fact his producer ended up having to work remotely from Toronto since she’d just had a baby, made the production a uniquely complex endeavour.
Given these challenges, Lint’s approach was to work guerilla-style. Using a lightweight camera and a minimal crew, he would land on location and quickly try to grab the necessary material before being discovered by authorities.
The approach mostly worked, with the exception of the film’s climactic scene, when they were caught by police while working in an abandoned swimming pool. But, in an act of coercive defiance, they managed to finish the shoot while pretending they were packing up and leaving.
Despite the bureaucracy, Lint’s rule-breaking approach to production aligns very much with how most art tends to be made there.
“It was difficult working in Berlin on certain levels, but we also reaped the benefits that came with being here,” Lint says.
Lint adds that there’s lots of room in Berlin for people to be involved in interesting projects. It’s especially attractive to creatives, since unlike most other countries, Germany allows in artists without guaranteed work, as long as they have a background of professional gigs. “That DIY [Do It Yourself] spirit provided the climate for people to take the chance and be involved in this crazy project. And that’s something that’s really hard to get people to do in Toronto.”
The final product captures both the experience of being young and gay as well as finding one’s self isolated in a new city, feels deeply personal because of its universality.
“The part that does come from my own life is this sense of being alienated in a new environment,” Lint says.
“There’s definitely a wink to autobiography with the aspect of a Canadian moving to Berlin, but there’s not much of my own story in there, except for talking to my mom on the phone. That’s definitely a thing I did a lot when I got here.”