Desire Will Set You Free – East End Film Festival Review

If there’s one genre of film that definitely doesn’t get enough attention it may well be LGBTQ films. I’m not referring to films that featured LGBTQ characters which can be, at best, problematic. I’m referring to a whole genre of films about the LGBTQ society made by LGBTQ film makers. If you’re struggling to name any major LGBTQ-centric films don’t be entirely surprised. GLAAD conducted studies on LGBTQ representation in film in 2014 and found that only 17.5% of films from major studios contained characters that identified as either lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. Whilst this was a slight improvement from the previous year, it’s still problematic with no real change in sight. Whilst the major studios could do with some self-evaluation, we as film fans can take more time and effort to seek out these films and discuss them.

To kick this discussion off, I am going to review Desire Will Set You Free.

An overview of the plot would go something like this: Desire Will Set You Free follows a group of people in the underground queer scene in Berlin, Germany. Its main focus character is Erza (played by the film’s writer-director Yony Leyser) who spends a lot of his time hanging out with his dark-minded friend Catherine (played by Chloe Griffin). He meets Russian immigrant Sasha and together they go on a journey through the underground queer scene where the lines between reality and desire blur get blurred by hedonism.

Whilst I’m definitely not going to pretend like I’m an expert of LGBTQ cinema, this film has a very honest atmosphere which I truly appreciate. As a queer woman it’s difficult to find characters I can truly relate to or films that explore the community I belong to in a way that isn’t hugely offensive or pandering to hetero-normative standards. Desire Will Set You Free provides the audience with very out-there characters who are actual human beings rather than worn-out stereotypes. This film is based somewhat in Leyser’s experiences whilst living in Berlin for four years and being part of the underground culture he depicts in this film. This film isn’t rose-tinted neither is it grisly or dirty. The excess and randomness is beautifully blended with the ongoing coming-of-age narrative.

As this was a low budget film production who gained their post-production budget through a successful Kickstarter campaign, some may get the impression that the production value would undermine the hedonism elements to the film. It doesn’t. This film shows off exactly what it needs to without showing off too much with its cinematography or being too flashy with its editing. The shots used are quite simple but incredibly effective. One scene where a character is being introduced into a club uses two quite straight forward panning shots, minimal additional lighting, and barely any editing yet it is a provocative sequence that makes a real visual impact on the audience. Desire Will Set You Free is proof that good cinematography, lighting, and editing doesn’t need to come with a huge price tag.

This is a film that definitely needs seeing whether you’re a part of the LGBTQ community or not. It’s focus on characters rather than plot makes it stand out and it’s loving exploration of an often overlooked subject matter is a needed contribution to cinema.


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