In one of my favorite scenes from Mutt (2023), directed by Vuk Lungulov-Klotz, John tells Feña that he has seen him naked several times when the latter expresses his discomfort at taking his shirt off in front of him. Although John has been Feña’s ex-boyfriend, he remarks that it is not the same thing now that he has transitioned, so John turns around as Feña proceeds to change into a dry shirt. There is sensitivity in this seemingly simple act of respecting the trans body. At the same time, it is impossible to deny that the scene arouses curiosity in the audience about the post-transition body of a trans man.
Mutt (2023) stands out in this regard. It is not only a film that carefully establishes the presence of a trans body on screen but also answers enough questions about it to satiate the audience’s intrigue around the same. It is also how Lungulov-Klotz chooses to disclose Feña’s body to the audience that matters in this case. First, we see him strip his upper torso through a reflection on the glass door of a washing machine.
Later, when Feña allows John to look at his naked midriff, the camera zooms in to give the audience a closer look, especially at the surgery marks below his breasts. This slow reveal eases the audience into gently perceiving the body of a trans man instead of sensationalizing it. However, Mutt steers clear of exclusively educational content. It weaves a story of a trans man and lets the audience into a day in his life with all its harsh judgments, honesty, and tenderness.
In the story, Feña, earlier Fernanda (played by Lio Mehiel), is a trans man in his twenties who has recently transitioned. He is in a club with his friends one night when he realizes that his ex-boyfriend, John (played by Cole Doman), is there as well to celebrate his cousin’s birthday. Initially awkward, the two strikes up a conversation and stroll out into the night to enjoy each other’s company, eventually ending up in bed together. The next morning, John leaves in a hurry (as if he regrets this interaction with Feña). But Feña has little time to ponder upon this.
Feña’s father is arriving later that day, and a friend has let him down who promised to lend him their car. He also comes across his half-sister, Zoe (played by MiMi Ryder), at the restaurant where Feña works. Fena is not the perfect protagonist. He scrambles around haphazardly, soliciting favors from people he knows and, in the process, hurting himself and those around him. Moreover, Fena is constantly on guard about his identity. Everyone around him seems either transphobic or simply nosy about his identity, piling up his frustration and making the moment of facing his father (the first time since transitioning) difficult. It is one long, long day in the life of Feña that turns out to be Lungulov-Klotz’s way of normalizing the everyday life of a trans person in today’s society.
In a word, Mutt (2023) is eye-opening. I cannot recall a film in recent popular culture that has so articulately blended the intersectionalities of ethnicity and queerness in one character that refuses to adhere to popular stereotypes. Albeit, for no fault of the filmmakers, we have till now only heard stories about trans characters which are just radical enough to educate the audience about trans identity. While ‘A Perfectly Normal Family’ (2020), directed by Malou Reymann, gave us a glimpse of the difficulty – bodily and societal – that a trans woman faces while transitioning, Mutt seeks to exclusively establish the normalcy of a trans person in everyday life.
The problems surrounding their home, relationship, and work are as natural as that of a cis-het person. Therefore, not having a penis doesn’t make him any less real (man). Mehiel is so compelling in his performance of this flawed protagonist that he becomes the pulsating force of this film. The camera focuses on him and his facial expressions just enough to capture the jolt of expressions every time he is confronted with inappropriate questions about his body, transphobic reactions, and honest confessions in the film.
Mutt (2023), literally referring to an object stuck in between, is a day-in-the-life drama that can come off as long and winding, especially in its third act. If you are patient enough, it ends up being a rewarding experience. I am starting to think that the same could be said about Feña’s character in the film as well. The cinematography is thoughtful and warm, and the background music never interferes with the storytelling.
This is a promising debut, and I cannot wait to see how writer-director Vuk Lungulov-Klotz will go ahead to revolutionize queer cinema with his brand of poignancy.