HipBeat review – a male identity crisis in Berlin is pure cringe | Movies


From Wings of Desire to Run Lola Run, from Cate Shortland’s Berlin Syndrome to one-take wonder Victoria, quite a few film-makers have been seduced by the liberating possibilities of the German capital. But too much freedom can often equate to directionless freestyling – and the authority-resistant, hard-partying, gender-fluid spirit of Berlin goes straight to the head of Irish writer-director Samuel Kay Forrest in this rambling and cringingly earnest feature debut.

Forrest plays wandering soul Angus, a twentysomething with a side-shave haircut and a thorny family background set on finding himself in the capital of Euro-hedonism. When he’s not railing against fascism and scarpering from the polizei, or oh-so-seditiously spray-painting his tag “HipBeat” around town, he has a budding relationship with local woman Angie (Marie Céline Yildirim). She’s unaware, though, that he’s sleeping around with members of both sexes – and, after a pep talk with an inspirational drag queen, becoming more intent on exploring the parts of himself in between.

For a film about searching and transition, too much of this identity crisis is baldly spelled out through voiceover, with Angus’s interior monologue prone to such zingers as: “We’ve all got scars. Yeah – I’ve got a few.” Only once does Forrest, rather than the obvious approach, grapple in properly dramatised form with gender and sexuality: during a 13-minute, single-cut scene in which Angus nervously reveals his new incarnation to Angie. It’s a bold gambit; though over-elongated, this vignette engages far more plausibly with the issues of judgment and acceptance.

Most of the time, though, HipBeat can’t rouse itself to be much more than a mood piece – even as it nominally counts down to a climactic Kreuzberg street protest. Despite the added charge from these scenes being shot in real life, its political ideas are stuck in an embarrassing studenty register: “I feel a beat in the street as I look at the city. A change is coming.” It’s on firmer ground – backed up by Joshua Monroe’s attuned urban cinematography and a choice outing for Mr Flagio’s Italo-disco classic Take a Chance – when arguing how change is ultimately rooted in a personal revolution.

HipBeat is available on digital platforms on 14 February.

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