A day in the life of a New York trans man is both fraught and funny in Vuk Lungulov-Klotz’s debut


Source: BFF


Dir/scr: Vuk Lungulov-Klotz. US. 2023. 87mins.

A warm and open performance from actor Lío Mehiel, coupled with a steady authenticity and emotional truthfulness, make Mutt an appealing 24-hours-in-New-York drama from newcomer Vuk Lungulov-Klotz. The boxiness of its frame draws the viewer directly in to a right-now city where trans man Feña (Miehel) is about to experience a challenging day between the reappearance of an ex, the arrival of his father from Chile and a teenage sister who turns up unexpectedly. A lot from his difficult past, in other words, when he has been fixated on the promise of his future.

 There’s a lightness to the film and a loveliness to Feña’s open-hearted struggle

We’ve been here before, cinematically, but Feña’s life, and the way it is treated – with humour, emotion, vulnerability and respect – is fresh, and their charismatic lead performance justifiably won Mehiel the acting Grand Jury prize in Sundance’s US dramatic competition. Although its international rollout in Berlin’s Generation 14plus signals that Mutt is a youth prospect, it is to be hoped that the market for this small-scale film will end up being wider. LGBT+ festivals and channels are a natural home, but the easy warmth and gregariousness of Mutt should extend its appeal. Lungulov-Klotz has brought his own experiences to this project, and his truth shines on the screen.

Mutt is constructed completely around Feña’s day, so the film lives and breathes through Mehiel’s performance. And it’s a 24 hour period in which the ante is increasingly upped – lost keys, a broken-down car, no money, etc. We first see the character leaving a late-night bar to take a phone call from Chile; he chats with his dad about the latter’s arrival the next day in a mix of Spanish and English which a passer-by jeers as ‘nice Spanglish’. So we can gather that Feña is conversant, but not a native speaker. The relationship with his father isn’t easy, either. In fac,t as we will see, none of his relationships are. But what he does have, for once, is an increasingly good one with himself.

Returning to the bar, Feña spots a straight ex, John (Cole Doman), from his pre-transition days, and there’s clearly both a burning flame and advanced hostility between the two. A walk-and-talk interlude results in Feña baring himself to John. What soon becomes clear is that Feña’s scars, emotional and physical, are new and still healing in a body that he’s just beginning to love. His life is chaotic, but there’s a strong sense he’s on the up – if he can only get on top of things. “I’m better now,” he tells John, who responds bitterly: “What happened to your lesbian phase?”. 

Everyone questions his choices. Feña’s not happy when John’s cousin asks ”do you, like, have a dick now?” (The answer: “I don’t need a dick to be a man.”) He tries to explain the concept of a dead name to a bank teller; no joy. You can see his happiness when a pharmacist addresses him by the correct sex, although there’s confusion when he follows it up with a request for a morning-after-pill. Yet when Feña, who is estranged from his mother, tells his 14 year-old sister that he’s trans, she isn’t even that interested: so what, one of my friends is trans, she shrugs. The film’s message seems to be is that society’s attitudes to Feña are transitional too, although it seems fairly safe to predict that when dad gets off the plane from Chile, he probably won’t be that enlightened.

If all this makes Mutt sound preachy or dour, it isn’t. There’s a lightness to the film and a loveliness to Feña’s open-hearted struggle. There are funny moments and desperately sad and vulnerable moments, all captured with immediacy by DoP Matthew Pothier. The film’s Academy Ratio is an apt choice for the right-now nature of the piece and even when we’re in the dark with Feña, in a club or a laundrette as he shyly exposes his new body, there’s a light to this New York City and its endless renewal of youth that shines through. Production designer Alanna Murray has made some apt location choices, showing telling the viewer a different city in an age-old struggle.

Production companies: Lucky 13, Spark Features

International sales: BFF, sales@bffsales.eu

Producers: Alexander Stegmaier, Stephen Scott Scarpulla, Vuk Lungulov-Klotz, Jennifer Kuczaj, Joel Michaely

Screenplay: Vuk Lungulov-Klotz

Cinematography: Matthew Pothier

Production design: Alanna Murray

Editing: Adam Dicterow

Main cast: Lío Mehiel, Cole Doman, MiMi Ryder, Alejandro Goic, Jasai Chase Owens, Jari Jones