Written and Directed by Mark Wilshin.
Starring Pip Brignall and Jo Weil.
British soccer hopeful Will finds himself naked and handcuffed to a streetlight in Berlin after his stag night goes awry. He is rescued by Michael, a dashing local, and the two head back to Michael’s apartment for a night of passion, tension, and self-discovery.
Sodom, the debut film of writer-director Mark Wilshin, is about two guys shagging, which you probably could have guessed from the title. What the title doesn’t tell you is that the film is gorgeously made and very well acted, and that its biggest strength is the exceptional chemistry its two leads have outside of the bedroom rather than in it.
Given that Sodom features only two characters, who happen to be gay and romantically involved, and is set almost entirely in a single apartment over the course of a night, comparisons will inevitably be made to Andrew Haigh’s brilliant 2011 two-hander Weekend. However, where Weekend’s strength was its incredibly passionate sex and poignant but minimalist script, Sodom is less focused on realism and profundity and more concerned with striking imagery a subtly tricky script that treats its characters as generational symbols.
Will (Pip Brignall) is an English twenty-year old wannabe soccer star who is in Berlin on his stag weekend. He ends up naked and handcuffed to a streetlight and is rescued by fortyish German Michael, who lives around the corner. Their physical chemistry is immediately evident, and within minutes Will and Michael are having sex in Michael’s gorgeous apartment. Their courtship is foreshadowed by a stunning sequence in which the camera slides up the red spiral staircase to Billie Holiday’s “Willow Weep For Me.”
Will is engaged to a woman yet enjoys the company of men and at first he seems to be another example of that well-known gay trope, the closet case. Conversely, Michael, separated from a long-term partner because of his own infidelity, appears to be the stereotypical older, successful, oversexed, homosexual gym bunny. However, as their connection deepens and they begin to reveal more to one another, Wilshin raises the question of whether Will is in denial of his homosexuality or rather just, in true millennial fashion, resistant of labels. As for Michael, we are left wondering whether his melancholic nature comes from loneliness or something even sadder.
Painfully long takes and lengthy pauses make the ache of their courtship come to life, however the slow pace becomes a bit much in the midsection, and it is hard not to get a bit snoozy as Will and Michael begin to note on how tired they are as well. And while they are both written authentically, Will’s continual trepidation and Michael’s advicey platitudes both get old after a while.
Strangely, Sodom’s biggest problem is the sex. While the two leads have excellent physical chemistry and the camera does an amazing job of emulating the gay male gaze, lingering on the most sensual features of the two attractive leads, the sex itself is oddly choreographed and incredibly brief for a film so concerned with the aftermath of a hookup.
Still, the story is layered delicately, and maps the very beginning of one man’s gay life while looking at another’s regrets concerning his. The production is lovely, with the Beniamino Barrese’s cinematography of particular note. The camera captures Will and Michael wonderfully, allowing the film to wordlessly portray the features they notice about one another.
Brignall’s effective performance is anchored in physicality, simultaneously showing Will’s freedom with his body and reticence to respond to Michael’s advances. And Weil is even more magnetic in a complimentary performance. The hunger Michael shows in confidently pursuing Will is breathtaking, and Weil sets the screen on fire with a sexy, sensitive portrayal.
Though Sodom is too slow and too tame for its own good, it is beautifully filmed, smartly written, and features strong performances from its two leads, whose chemistry is magnetic. Given that the film had a tiny budget, its immaculate production is all the more impressive, and Mark Wilshin definitely announces himself as a filmmaker to watch.
Sodom will be screening at the East End Film Festival in June.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★