The gender talk has never been more relevant and neither has the definition of masculinity. With the most recent campaign from Gillette discouraging the classic expression ‘boys will be boys’ and shaming the culture of toxic masculinity, we really do have to ask ourselves, what are the values of masculinity today? In three short films titled Isolated Protagonists, German director Ben Miethke looks for answers in the shadows of ever-contemporary designer Raf Simons.
In the mid-1990s, Raf Simons became famous for his collections, which incorporated youth culture and explored the complex codes of masculinity, and since then, landing him titles as creative director of Jil Sander, Dior and, most recently, Calvin Klein. This was the root of these three short narratives, where we follow three young male characters named Milo, Bilal and Raphael, all in their own fight and struggle with traditional masculinity.

Each film shows a perspective of both their inner and outer selves that suggests their disconnection with who they truly are and the often-opposite roles they project on to the outside world. We follow them through everyday-like situations and how they behave restlessly – whether it’s stealing from the local greengrocers, getting in fights on the bus, or talking down girls. Each act of confidence in the real world is contrasted with their three vastly different inner dimensions of insecurity, anger and loneliness.

A battle that natural has arisen from expectations of the young men having to blend into social and cultural norms. As Ben Miethke, the director, puts it himself: “Just as any other human beings, these young men feel hurt, angry, misunderstood, lonely and insecure, but as a result of their social environment, they have to hide such feelings, which leaves them secretly isolated.”

It’s not a new story. Nor is it a new struggle. It has been here for decades and continues to do so. But the main question being asked is, why are the words ‘fragility’ and ‘confidence’ seen as naturally opposed? Why do these two words have to take place in two different versions of the world? “Why not see the borders between femininity and masculinity fluidly, so that these terms dissolve in their own definitions over the course of time in that fluid?”, the director asks. It’s with this in mind that these three short films were created, hoping to portray “three boys fighting these battles but overcoming and embracing them in their own, very personal way.”