BFI Flare 2024: What a Feeling (2024)

What a feeling by Kat Rohrer is a romcom about the relationship of two middle-aged women, a late ‘coming of age’.

Mid-life coming of age

by Alexa Dalby

What a Feeling

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

In case you missed it first time round, What a feeling is the joyous song from Flashdance sung by Fame-star Irene Cara, that was a huge hit in 1983: it symbolises an exuberant freedom, a sense of finding yourself, of being in control of your body and of your life. It pervades this film.

Writer/director Kat Rohrer has said she feels that queer films are always about young people and coming of age. She wanted to make a film about middle-aged people coming to a realisation.

What a Feeling is a romantic comedy about the love affair between two middle-aged women in Vienna (though we don’t see much of the city). Iranian Fa (Proschat Madani) has her own business as a carpenter and is an unsentimental commitment-phobe. Bourgeoise doctor Marie-Theres (Caroline Peters) is dumped by her lawyer husband on their 20th wedding anniversary at a celebration meal in a restaurant in front of their friends. As a result she gets drunk and stumbles innocently into a lesbian bar – the Pussycat Club run by bilingual Bigi (ubiquitous Barbara Spitz) – where Fa takes pity on the straight woman after Marie-Theres is moved to make an exhibition of herself and dance drunkenly in the bar to What a Feeling and then falls humiliatingly flat on her face.

For the first few minutes I thought I too had stumbled – into a German porno movie from the ’70s with a boiler-suited female carpenter instead of a moustachioed plumber, and then into Les Dawson’s re-imagining of how to be lesbian/gay/run a lesbian bar (delete as appropriate) and middle-class attitudes that may seem outdated or unpleasant. But after the first half hour of almost Confessions of a… slapstick, a nugget of real emotion starts to reveal itself. Rohrer says that the balance of comedy and drama in her film mirrors her take on life.

But Rohrer’s uneven film covers such a lot of issues that What a Feeling can seem crowded: Marie-Theres’s husband (Heikko Deutschmann) has found a connection to nature in a retreat and left his job, their teenage daughter (Allegra Tinnefeld) is a militant environmentalist, also there are Austrian attitudes to immigration (Fa’s mother and her three children escaped from Iran, though her husband was absent, and the strict and ailing elderly Iranian mother (Gohar Nurbachsch) wants Fa to get married), fitting in to another country (both women), #MeToo and sexual harassment (doctor colleague Joseph Lorenz), Woman Life Freedom demonstrations, stereotype gays (Rafael Haider), drag acts, heartbreak, female singer/songwriters, sexual liberation… the list goes on and on.

Each woman is of an age to have her own emotional and family baggage to bring to a new relationship. Yet somehow, despite all the setbacks, complications and unbelievable coincidences or fate that move the script along, the end result is exuberantly life-affirming – just like the eponymous song – and the director hopes the audience will come out of the cinema singing What a Feeling.

What a Feeling has its world premiere at BFI Flare on 15 March 2024. It screens again on 18 March 2024. International representation is by Praher Film.

Join the discussion