I Feel Like Disco is a beautiful little movie that manages to walk a very fine line between fantasy and reality, tragedy and farce. It is thematically complex while at the same time telling a very simple story about a teenage boy dealing with personal tragedy and his own sexual awakening. It is not a perfect film, but it is certainly one of the best entries of the Florida Film Festival thus far.
Frithjof Gawenda plays Florian, an awkward, overweight boy who shares a small apartment with his mother Monika (Christina Große) and father Hanno (Heiko Pinkowski). Florian is closest with his mother; she is his only playmate, indulging his active imagination and love of kitschy pop star Christian Steiffen. Hanno, a diving coach, has no idea how to relate to his son and views him as a constant disappointment. Florian's world is blown apart when his mother suffers a brain hemorrhage. He clings to hope that she'll awaken even after the doctors say there's no real chance. Hanno attempts to salvage his relationship with his son by bringing him to the pool during practice. Florian notices Hanno's student Radu (Robert Alexander Baer) and begins to develop a shy crush on him.
The film deals with serious issues and there are scenes of raw and painful emotion. These moments would be almost unbearable, but the movie tempers these scenes with fantasy sequences that almost border on magic realism. Christian Steiffen, the disco singer whom Florian idolizes, appears as a fantasy version of himself and functions as a guide and a muse to both Florian and Hanno. Florian spends countless hours at his mother's bedside and sometimes imagines her awake, comforting him and sometimes dancing. These fantasy elements work but only to a certain point, because director Axel Ranisch and co-screenwriter Sonke Andresen never really establish rules for these sequences. When Hanno realizes that Florian is gay, he imagines watching a self-help video on the topic; the bit is funny but is tonally wrong for the rest of the movie.
These are minor complaints, because the rest of the movie is emotionally resonant and filled with very true coming of age moments. Florian's first love and first heartbreak resonates whether you're gay or straight, due in equal measure to the writing and the performance by Frithjof Gawenda; it is a subtle portrayal and a brave one in which the young actor bares himself both physically and internally. It's refreshing to see a movie like this because the experience, albeit painful at times, is an invigorating one because of the talent in front of and behind the camera.