A REVIEW OF THE FILM HERMES (1995)
Hermes, a German film directed by Claudia Schillinger, was released on German television in 1995. It is 26 minutes long. Both the images here are from the original review.
It is a rarity for man boy love to be acknowledged at all in contemporary cinema, although recent films such as For a Lost Soldier and Total Eclipse provide brilliant and daring exceptions. Amid the noise of sensation-hungry media frenzy, it is still less common for the theme to be treated objectively in a documentary format: Adi Sideman’s not altogether serious Chicken Hawk does so at best superficially. Far more challenging and artistically ambitious is the new German film Hermes (subtitled in English), directed and produced by the Berlin-based feminist filmmaker Claudia Schillinger. If it appears at a film festival in your area, it is worth going out of your way for.
The film’s kernel is formed by the confessions of the boy lover W. Hermes, whose role is played by an actor, but is based on the story of a real character known to the filmmaker. His persona comes across as candid, self-reflective, and altogether convincing, as he recalls his childhood and frames his present love for boys as an attempt to recapture childhood and the “boy” within himself. It is in this juxtaposition of temporal perspectives that the film escapes the mere interview format and becomes a remembrance of things past. As Hermes leafs through his photo album, we catch glimpses of his family and his own boyhood – a tale of a dominant mother and two younger brothers “taken away” from him because of his parents’ fear that he would make them homosexual. Is his adult love of boys an attempt to recapture his lost brothers? His own lost childhood? The questions are implied without being answered. By posing them, the film transcends the apologetic mode of much boy-love literature to probe the psyche not only of the boy, but of the boy-lover himself.
Hermes’ stream of consciousness never sinks into self-pity. He admits his own concerns about the power dynamics of a relationship between a youth and adult, even his belief that he has probably harmed some of boys. He worries that he may slip into some of the same techniques of control that his domineering mother used with him. While this frankness contrasts with the unreflective self-justification asserted by some boy-lovers (how could I ever harm someone I love?), its very self-awareness implies a personality loathe to do harm.
What is most unconventional, probably unique, in this film is the subjective insertion of the filmmaker herself into the story, lying naked upon a bed with her three-year old son, engaged in gentle body play which seems perfectly innocent and natural. At the same time, it can be viewed as intensely erotic. The audience is itself drawn into a vicarious consciousness of the irrepressible physicality of the child, his unsocialized and guiltless pleasure in exploring his own and others’ bodies. How is this mother’s joyful physical intimacy with her child different from the mutually pleasurable fondling for which a “molester” like Hermes might be sent to prison? The film is a virtual montage: as we shift through the images of the film-maker Claudia and her son, Hermes’ mother and her sons, Hermes playing ball with a boy on a unicycle, or Hermes’ photograph of a boy sleeping naked on his bed, the categories and distinctions become blurred. The audience’s secure assumptions about licit and illicit acts are challenged as the boundaries are deconstructed. The audience itself is transformed into a pederastic voyeur, enjoying the loving corporal involvement of filmmaker/mother and child, perhaps even enjoying Hermes’ loving photograph of a naked child.
Like Claudia Schillinger’s previous film In No Sense (on father-daughter incest), this film intends to disturb the audience by compelling it to adopt new conceptual frameworks. Although disturbing, the film was surprisingly well received, to judge from the thoughtful and active discussion after its Berlin premiere in December 1995.
[There follows discussion of another documentary with a similar theme, Unzucht – Ermittlungen im Fall H. (Unchastity – Investigations in the Case of H.)]
Indeed the filmmaker reports to me that her attempts to have the film presented at gay and lesbian film festivals have, with one exception (Toronto), met with rejection on the predictable grounds (“too controversial,” “gives a bad image of our community”). She has been more successful in having it shown within the context of documentary film programs (including London, Munich, Hamburg, and other German cities), with generally, although not universally, positive response. The possibility of videocassette distribution in North America is currently being explored. The filmmaker, who says that she came to the theme of man-boys love almost accidentally (originally intending to do a documentary on woman-boy love, but not finding any willing participants), is interested in learning more about the subject for future projects, and solicits feedback from an of us who see her film. Her address is: Claudia Schillinger, Winterfeldtstrasse 24, D-10781 Berlin, GERMANY.
Reviewed in the NAMBLA Bulletin (New York), Volume XVII, No. 4, February 1997, pp. 11-12.
Comments of general interest will be collected at Letters To The Editor (some editing may be involved)
Anonymous 92, 27 March 2022
Is this movie still available anywhere?
Editor, 27 March 2022
I would expect so, but I'm afraid I don't know where.