By Schwa Yeleti
Mutt, a new LGBT drama from director Vuk Lungulov-Klotz, takes place over a disastrous 24 hours in the life of Feña (Lio Mehiel), a twenty-something transgender man living in New York City who is estranged from much of his family. It’s the debut feature from Lungolov-Klotz, a Chilean-Serbian and transgender filmmaker. These identities are intrinsic in the film’s themes, although I hesitate to view it entirely through the perspective of its director. Mutt is more universal than that: it’s the story of what can happen when we change and the people around us don’t keep up.
While Feña is not solitary in the city — one of the first scenes in the film shows him at a bar with his friends — the movie depicts someone who feels lonely despite that. With the use of closeup shots that betray every emotion that flits across Mehiel’s expressive visage, the audience gets the sense that while Feña is not someone who is lost for company, he still feels profoundly alone in the world.
Over the course of 87 minutes — relatively short for a feature these days — Feña reconnects with his ex-boyfriend, his younger sister, and his father, all of whom knew Feña years ago before his transition. Each of them grapples with his transition in their own ways, and Feña is left to manage his own feelings about their reactions. While his ex is contradictorily both curious and icy, switching from one to another in a matter of hours, his sister is characteristically nonchalant as only teenagers can be, while his Chilean father is instead prone to outright misgendering.
However, I was left somewhat disappointed that Feña’s character didn’t receive much characterization beyond his trans identity. The movie is only a tiny snapshot of his life, for sure, but little of his life is illuminated besides his inner turmoil about his transition. While it was cathartic to see experiences so painfully familiar to trans people on the big screen, the film would likely have benefitted from giving Feña any interests unrelated to the transphobia he experiences.
The film does address this to some extent, though not as much as I would have liked. Notably, there’s a scene where Feña screams, “You’re just afraid of loving a trans guy!” a sentiment that his ex-boyfriend quickly refutes, pointing out Feña’s myopia for the consequences of his own actions and the ease with which he blames his problems on being trans. In essence, the conflict in this scene is reflected back on Feña — not everyone in his life is out to get him. Eventually, his fear of rejection did go too far and became a form of self-destruction.
Technically, Mutt was phenomenal. The movie was shot in a boxy 4:3 aspect ratio, a decision that serves to make every catastrophe of Feña’s day feel even more suffocating. And despite (or maybe aided by!) the tiny budget, the film hardly ever feels cheap, instead adding to the increasingly oppressive mood. Each shot was thoughtfully executed, and the color grading — which was apparently done in very little time — was beautiful. While not perfect, Mutt is a touching and authentic portrayal of life post-transition and how our past will always catch up to us. And although it’s no story of escapism, it is a story brimming with love and tenderness, from the filmmaker and from every one of the people that Feña reconnects with.