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A sweet coating on a hollow core, Centre of My World is an unashamed queer romance unfortunately let down by its unnecessary directing style. James Turnball reviews.

Centre of My World, a German coming-of-age romance based on the 1998 bestseller Die Mitte Der Welt, should come with some sort of dental health warning. Put simply, this film is twee – so twee that after two hours in the cinema I felt inclined to check my teeth to see if the tone of the film had rotted my enamel.

That’s not to say that this is a bad film – just one that could have done with a lighter touch. Plenty of individual aspects in Centre deserve praise, but one can’t help but feel a little disappointed by the experience as a whole.

The film starts with a flashback to happier days in the childhood of our protagonist, Phil, a 17-year-old seen playing in an idyllic meadow with his equally shockingly blonde-haired twin sister, Dianne. Phil returns from summer camp to the fairytale house he calls a home, dubbed “Visible” by his family, to a family that has been fractured following a vicious storm in his home town.

His once-simpatico twin is now surly and distant, and when she isn’t climbing out of her bedroom window in the middle of the night, she’s simply refusing to talk to her mother – a free-spirited sort affectionately referred to as “Glass”. Her refusal to go into more detail with her children about their father turns his mysterious identity into something of a white whale for Phil and Dianne, and her attempts to forge meaningful relationships throughout their lives cause more damage than she realises.

…the visual presentation of their love affair is worth remembering for eschewing machismo cliché and showing two men simply falling in love…

Phil asks himself: “how can you miss someone you don’t even know?” – and it’s a powerful question that the film fails to give the attention it deserves. There are moments of depth here and there but supporting characters that comprise Phil’s family feel a tad undercooked, and even undercut by the director’s quest for some sort of memorable visual style. The actors perform their parts well enough but they’re reaching for greater meaning that just isn’t there.

Later on, the film seems a little aware of its lack of commitment to Dianne’s character development (or at least development beyond “dark and mysterious”). It shoehorns a twist so ludicrous it feels like a test to see if you’re paying attention. I started to feel sorry for whichever film the screenwriter of Centre of my World had stolen that twist from – I’m sure it would have worked far better where it belonged.

Far better handled is the central romance, where Phil falls head over heels for the new boy in school, Nicholas. The fact that the protagonist’s sexuality is handled with such nonchalance is oddly refreshing: all too often, the fact that a character is queer has to be the main issue of a story, or some other obstacle to overcome. Of course, Phil keeps his budding romance secret from his extremely eccentric best friend Kat for fear of driving a wedge between the two of them, but the three of them become a cohesive unit soon enough.

 

The relationship issues Phil goes through may be familiar, but they’re still delicately explored in a context too few films care to notice, and the visual presentation of their love affair is worth remembering for eschewing machismo cliché and showing two men simply falling in love. The gentle stroking of skin, the tender shower scene, the wide-eyed stare from one of them as the other walks in slow-motion across the screen – it’s a cute tale told capably.

Alas, this can’t make up for the general feeling that more could have been done with the material here. The cutesy veneer, propped up by wacky transitions and a soundtrack that creaks under the weight of a dozen indie rock tracks, is hiding something fairly hollow inside, which is a real shame. If the director weren’t so set on the aesthetics of the film and spent more time on the things that matter most, maybe Centre of my World would have been worth indulging your sweet tooth for.


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