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Review: Centre Of My World

Joining the overpopulated club of coming of age queer films, German drama Centre Of My World (Die Mitte Der Welt) finds a way to stand out from the crowd by – pardon the pun – not making the whole coming out process (and inevitable homophobic issues linked to it) the centre of our protagonist’s world.

Phil, played by rising star Louis Hofmann with an impressive level of genuine vulnerability, is a well-rounded character whose journey is not defined by his sexuality. That is just a part of his life and the romance he gets tangled up with is rightfully portrayed just as any other story of young love with all its intense emotions and messy moments.

It is refreshing to watch an LGBTQ-themed film where the characters’ sexuality is only a piece of the greater puzzle of their life. Phil, after all, has more pressing issues to deal with as he returns home from summer camp only to find his mom and twin sister not speaking to each other.

Adapted by writer/director Jakob M. Erwa from Andreas Steinhöfel’s 1998 popular YA novel Die Mitte Der Welt, which actually translates into “The Centre of the world”, the title refers to a question child-Phil asks his mum – something she’s taken aback by and replies to in diplomatic fashion. The film in fact often flashes back to Phil’s and his twin sister Dianne’s childhood to highlight all the pivotal moments that have defined their current state as a family.

Having not read the novel, I’m not sure how faithfully the German filmmaker has translated the narrative structure for the screen but it certainly feels like he must’ve captured the essence of Phil’s experience and point of view. Peppered with not overly intrusive voice-over from the boy introducing or commenting upon the past as we see it unfold, Erwa follows the story through Phil’s eyes indeed.

After spending the leftovers of summer with his inseparable best friend Kat (Svenja Jung) once back at school Phil’s world is turned upside down by the arrival of a new boy in his class. Nicholas (Jannik Schümann) is one of those handsome, athletic and mysterious types and according to Kat, someone who used to live in their small town but whose family had moved away. Now he’s back and ready to break hearts but in spite of Kat’s suspicious outlook on the dreamy boy, Phil can’t help but crush hard on Nicholas and he starts hanging out every day by the sidelines, watching him running track.

Given how unbearable the situation at home has become with his mum and sister still in cold war mode and neither of them willing to open up about it, Nicholas is a much-needed distraction for our perplexed protagonist. Thing is that Phil and Dianne’s mum, who goes by the nickname of Glass (an excellent Sabine Timoteo), has raised them alone after things not working out with their unknown father, back when she was in America.

It’s not just growing up without a father that has affected the siblings’ lives but especially the fact that over the years, Glass has been dating multiple men, driving them all away one by one. Whilst Phil has managed to cope with the situation, Dianne has been affected in a different and deeper way and one episode, in particular, started generating the tension between her and Glass. Now that their mother has found a new man, old wounds open up again and poor Phil is caught in the crossfire.

Meanwhile, though he finds temporary solace in Nicholas and when things unexpectedly bloom between them, Phil is dragged into a whirlwind of passion. Erwa depicts the two boys’ romance in sensual fashion, without sparing us detailed glimpses into their most intimate moments. Given both actors’ stunning looks, the scenes will definitely titillate the audience’s senses but what’s great about the filmmaker’s choice is that he never indulges for voyeuristic sake.

Even the most explicit sex is beautifully shot and thoroughly justified by the narrative, capturing those youthful moments of pure bliss that we can only experience at that age. And the actors are totally on board with it and not just because some scenes require fleeting yet very naturalistic full frontal shots, but because they perfectly embody the mood and energy of the once-in-a-lifetime period in one’s life with authenticity.

Needless to say that relationships aren’t easy and even less when you’re young and overwhelmed with new feelings. Phil is maybe too naïve or just too much of a romantic dreamer, hence it’s no surprise he’s bound to get burned but what really matters once again is that the story’s heart lays elsewhere.

Phil’s romance is important to his growth but he has much heavier drama to deal with at home. Peeling the layers of secrets and lies is part of the heart-felt cinematic journey the film provides the viewers with. And maybe the slight modification in the movie’s English title as “Centre Of My World” is rather appropriate to amplify the protagonist’s search for meaning and identity.

Director Jakob M. Erwa has done a beautiful job with this adaptation and if anything, the film will spark the curiosity of viewers who – like yours truly – are unfamiliar with the source material and will rush to get a copy to appreciate differences and similarities. A huge part of this successful enterprise is, of course, the casting with a solid ensemble that draws you into the story, from the adults all the way to the child versions of Phil and Dianne.

However, it’s Louis Hofmann who steals the show, proving that his turn in Land Of Mine was only the beginning. His naturalism is so charming that you just want to get inside the screen and give him a hug every time Phil is let down by those around him. There’s no doubt this young German actor will go far and we’ll be rooting for him. Next up for Hofmann is the first German original series for Netflix, supernatural thriller titled Dark, arriving very soon and we can’t wait!

Centre of My world is out in UK cinemas from September 15th and on DVD from October 9th.

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