A postcard hangs over Florian’s bed and it reads: Fat kids are harder to kidnap. Florian is a fat kid. I use the word fat because, to quote Beth Ditto, “overweight” would imply that there is such a thing as normal weight. Both the funny postcard and Ditto’s quote are empowering messages that fat kids like Florian need since they are constantly reminded by others that what they are is not normal. The fact that Florian is about to come out as gay doesn’t make things easier and when his fat dad tells him that he wasn’t as fat as a kid, Ditto comes to mind again: “It’s a cruel, cruel world to face on your own.” Luckily, Florian has a best friend and ally who shares the soundtrack of his life. Together with his mum, he dresses up in 70s clothes and dances to the music of folk singer Christian Steiffen. No, Florian’s world it not a sad place – he feels like disco and so does the entire film which is one of the most uplifting tragicomedies of the year.
Director Axel Ranisch, who gave the world his adorable no-budget film Heavy Girls (Dicke Mädchen) in 2012, can best be described as a magician. He presents us with fat working-class anti-heroes, throws in a coming out, has the mother fall in a coma and Florian fall in love with a cute boy from Rumania, and sets parts of his story in a public pool. Gasp? No – smile, aw and laugh out loud! I haven’t been this touched by a film in a long time and have never laughed so hard over something so serious. At one point in the film, Florian’s father, an emotionally withdrawn and sometimes mean, yet lovable, character meets singer Christian Steiffen in a bar and is given a DVD for parents whose kids are different (don’t ask why, some parts of the film play in a different reality). In this sex education film, Rosa von Praunheim himself (in a hilarious cameo) explains the joys of anal sex and the importance of safer sex. This leads to the most awkward and outrageously funny scene in the film in which an understanding father tries to anticipate his son’s coming out in the presence of the boy’s secret crush.
Drama, comedy, and fantasy always go hand in hand and this is where Ranisch’s magic comes into play; it all works out perfectly. We understand the sorrows of young Florian and see that his heart is broken, but the film doesn’t aim for pity, but turns to dream sequences and humour instead, without ever (and that’s the film’s biggest achievement) making fun of its protagonists. The dialogue is always spot on and Frithjof Gawenda and Heiko Pinkowski as Florian and his dad, respectively, give downright amazing performances. Other directors would have gone for obvious jokes, but Ranisch has a subtle and tender way of describing the dilemmas of a young boy. Every cruelty is followed by some affection and after every bleak moment we enter a sunlit fantasy in which Florian’s mum wakes up from her coma.
Talking about empowerment, Axel Ranisch could be a figurehead for many movements. He gives big people in (German) film a face and a heart and genuinely cares about their problems with love. He also shows that intimate tales set in working class households don’t need to dramatize, sensationalise or ridicule anyone – something we tend to forget when we watch Reality TV. Ranisch proves that there are German comedies that are actually funny and that you don’t need a big budget to talk about big emotions. Lastly, he is making films that show a new generation of gay kids that coming out as gay doesn’t have to be a tragedy, but can be a fun and touching thing to look at.
There are films that are impossible not to fall in love with. I Feel Like Disco is one of them.
I Feel Like Disco (Ich fühl mich Disco), Germany 2013, 95 min.
director: Axel Ranisch, cinematography: Dennis Pauls, actors: Frithjof Gawenda, Heiko Pinkowski, Christina Große, Robert Alexander Baer, Christian Steiffen, languages: German, distributor: Edition Salzgeber
German with English subtitles: Central, Krokodil
German: Xenon, Eiszeit, Moviemento, Kino in der Kulturbrauerei, Tilsiter Lichtspiele, Cinemaxx Potsdamer Platz