Samuel Kay Forrest’s HipBeat is a coming-out story about the messiness of it all. Forrest wrote, directed and stars in the film as Angus (Forrest), a young Irish man desperate to figure out where he fits in the world. His mind is wild with anger and distress at the state of the world at large. Disdain for capitalism, the status quo and the rise of the far-right drive him to Berlin, where he hopes to find belonging in the city’s thriving protest movements. There, he falls in love with Angie(Marie Celine Yildirim), whose father would never approve of Angus. In fact, Angus barely approves of himself as he contends with his burgeoning gender fluidity and growing, confusing sexuality. When the whole world expects one thing of you, lashing out is natural, even if it isn’t the right path to self-love.
HipBeat doesn’t cut corners in Angus’s journey of self-discovery. Despite his relationship with Angie, Angus can’t keep himself away from trying new things and new paramours. What he does is pretty shitty, but thankfully Forrest’s script never makes Angus a villain. The world is a dire place — as his voiceovers constantly remind us — and sometimes our own actions make it worse whether we mean to or not. Contradictions and hypocrisy are organic elements of being young and unformed. “No one is free if anyone is oppressed,” Angus muses while selfishly lying to Angie about his other lovers. This doesn’t make him an inherently bad person, just a complex and difficult one.
The story ticks down to an anti-fascist protest, filmed on location. Angus’s political activities don’t drive the story as much as his personal troubles although they speak to his confounding life situation as much as anything. He travels to Berlin to become part of a movement that largely consists of tagging public spaces and joining in massive protests. He subsides largely on handouts from a family from whom he feels estranged. Nothing in Angus’s activism is designed to effect real change. It’s angst, anger and frustration — expressions of how he feels on the inside projected onto world events he can’t control. Frankly, it feels like an honest depiction of a lot of youth activism. It’s deeply relatable.
Despite Forrest’s confident portrayal of Angus, his script tells more than it shows. Much of the film is accompanied by spoken narration of Angus’s internal angst about the world and his position. Most of this boils down to redundant platitudes about Orwell, Nazis, the failure of capitalism and how love, ultimately, is the most powerful weapon against hate. Whether that’s true in a larger sense is beside the point. It’s a philosophy that makes sense for the character of Angus as he finds his place in the Berlin underground LGBTQ+ community and embraces self-love. It’s also something we see in the story through Forrest’s eye for imagery and on-location filming in Berlin. The story doesn’t need Angus to vocalize that which we can easily see the character experience.
That’s ultimately a minor quibble, though. HipBeat is an engaging, well-shot and well-acted picture of a young man trying to find himself in a chaotic and perplexing world. It approaches questions of gender and identity in a character-centric way and provides an ending that feels mature and thoughtful. The world is awful, but love can be found if we just know where to look.