We meet the Berlin Bruisers, Germany’s first gay-inclusive rugby team, on the way to their first match of the season in east Germany where they loose 109:5 against the local Rugby Club. But instead of retreating into self pity and excuses it seems they are quite used to that kind of defeat. Back in Berlin and during one of their quarterly „Way Forward Meetings“ it is explained to the newbies, that the team started as a social project - exclusively gay - and transformed over the years into a well-balanced team where everyone is welcome. Today they are facing straight and „real“ teams in the lower German regional league. Although the competitiveness is now part of their agenda the social aspect is forever woven into the fabric of the team philosophy concludes Adam, co founder and Rugby Daddy. For Nico who is one of the „big guys“ of the team this „unconditional affection“ and welcome is what made all the difference, since he struggled with his body and how the community reacted towards him before becoming a Bruiser. Another part of their social agenda is to go proudly out embodying their core message. In a colorful event the Bruisers try to teach rugby to hospital-clowns as part of a gigantic 200 clown workshop. We meet Colin who is aware that these events might not even be the reason why the Bruisers are relevant. „By simply being visible and proud“ they make a huge difference when they travel to the East German countryside where queer life often is a foreign word. In another league-game we encounter the raw physicality of rugby in a POV perspective and meet Su, one of the newbies who now has experienced some matches and despite the fact that the Bruisers are “Berlin’s worst rugby team“ and he is one of their least skilled players it never struck him as a problem. Su‘s work usually starts before daybreak. We witness him taking care of a dead woman who is being prepared to be buried. In his tender and careful reaction towards the bleak harshness of death we discover in him an incredibly sensitive person who was always interested in transformations. Starting with the undignified burial of his father he wanted to make a difference in how to deal with the deceased but also how to accompany the bereaved. Nico‘s Job as a part time airbrush tattoo artist at the world’s largest indoor beach makes clear that the heterogeneity within the team springs from social backgrounds as well as sexual, ethnical and political affiliations. For Rugby Daddy Adam Wide, who is in his 60s, his happy childhood and material wealth makes him sometimes “feel like a fraud, standing alongside the Bruisers” for they have often struggled to arrive where they are today. His only existential challenge – the Aids Crisis - now lays in the past. The wounds of caring for one of his partners until his death have healed. On one of his monthly trips to his mother who lives at the sea-side in England we observe him and their precious relationship which is characterized by their loving and not too respectful dark humor. Once we are back in Berlin we learn that there is another team within the Bruisers – The Gentlemen – which offers a possibility to play with less risks of injury. The Christmas dinner concludes the year with a variety of rituals once again showing the diversity within the team. Coach Santiago it is revealed to never have had contact with queer people, coming from a conservative home and a mostly homophobic culture. His repetitive and blunt cheering “We gotta’ fucking win! We are winners right?!” is contrasted by another insight into Nicos private life where he talks about how being bullied at school almost forced him to commit suicide and how his self-hatred and pain exploded into aggression. But when we meet him another day coaching rugby in a school together with Adam and Su these wounds seem to have healed for good. Attacking Stereotypes is the key-phrase of this Bruisers project which is all about self-esteem, being yourself, anti-bullying and not judging a book by its cover. Su for instance explains to the kids how he was born female and later transgressed and how that gave him two people’s perspectives on stereotypical male and female behaviours. The Team unites on their way to the Union Cup in Madrid, a major gay rugby tournament, where they are able to win the first match. For most of the players it is their first ever victory. But the euphoria only holds for one day when the Bruisers are „butchered“ in next match. Broken legs, a serious eye injury are just some of the wounds they now have to sooth. Another episode of Su‘s life gives insight into his former dilemma. Being a gay man with a woman’s body trying to date other gay men. After following him and his husband through their early every-morning-routines he concludes that in the end it is about belonging somewhere and that to a relieving extent the Bruisers did not care about his struggles when he joined – he was simply a part of something else. Colin is in the middle of a photo shooting turning into his drag alter ego when he asks „Why can‘t I be a faggy drag queen on stage but also one of the fiercest players?“ After the shoot he reminds us of all the different body types gathered in this Team and we listen to Colin’s coming out to his father which turns into a moment of self-revelation far beyond questions of sexuality. Next up is the Violet Varieté, a colorful fundraising new wave variety show which leads into the last game of the season. For the first time it looks like the Bruisers are on eye level with one of the league teams until they lose in the last minutes of the game. But maybe it is not all about winning, discovers Burkhard, the Team Captain. „… you learn a lot more from defeats.“ In the ending scene we meet the Bruisers at Adam’s rooftop balcony where the internal season’s awards are handed over. Adam resigns as president, letting his child go. Colin ends this sequence in the middle of the party. He has to host a Karaoke-party, dressed as a Puppy on stage. Who knows what will come next? What started out as an informal ball game in the Tiergarten five years ago is now an official rugby club, playing in the local league. Even if they are, in the words of one Bruiser, “Berlin’s worst rugby team”. Told from the perspective of several team-members, the film follows its protagonists around both the rugby field and their personal lives, in the process providing an intersectional portrait of masculinity, and expanding the clichés so often applied to gender and sexuality into a richly textured account of the universal search for belonging and personal fulfilment. Made with a deeply inclusive tenderness and intelligence, Tackling Life is the graduation film of first-time feature director Johannes List.
FIRST STEPS || Wettbewerb für Abschlussfilme deutschsprachiger Filmschulen//2018
Award in the category Dokumentarfilm
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