There’s something exhilarating about finding yourself in a new city alone. You’re out of your element, disoriented, and swept into the chaos until, in some chance encounter, you find a constant—a latch. More commonly, it’s a stranger who speaks your language at the restaurant you stumbled into, but sometimes it comes in the form of a rogue band of punks dressed in head-to-toe Saint Laurent outfits—that’s how things go in Leo Adef’s world, at least.
In The Other Side, the new fashion film by the Barcelona-based filmmaker in collaboration with Hercules Magazine, a lone wanderer takes a train into Berlin and drifts into a pack of friends ready to take him under their Saint Laurent-draped wing. “I had a lot of freedom to tell the story that I wanted to,” Adef said of the project. Far removed from his usual focus on sexuality, he’s branched out into a story he describes as more global, while retaining the visceral, raw style that has caught the attention of many, including fellow filmmaker Matt Lambert.
Through Adef’s honest approach to filmmaking, his projects end up feeling less like films and more like windows into a story he discovered by chance. When he began casting for The Other Side, he looked for a cast of real life friends. “Most of them already knew each other and go out there together,” he said, adding that the protagonist, Paul Manniez, was as new to the city as the character he played. “We brought him from Paris and it was his first time there, so everything was very natural for all of them.”
This affinity for finding the right people for his films is what has made his projects so exciting. Rather than going for the usual model or actor types, Adef finds most of the guys for his projects online or at parties. “I’m looking for a specific character, I try to find that character in real life,” he said.
Through his natural casting, Adef has created a catalogue of films that explore the youthful sexuality of people often plucked from the street or his Instagram feed—a voyeuristic approach to storytelling. “Most of my ideas come from observing young people and spending time with them and learning about their issues, “he said. I generally choose people who give me good vibes.”
This has allowed him to explore his own ideas of sexuality, masculinity, and love. He’s captured stories of unrequited lust in Timeless, a three-part short film detailing the same story of tangled sexuality from the perspectives of the three characters, or in his documentary Our Own Private Scene, a coming-of-age story of three 17 year olds in a small French town. He’s teamed with Matt Lambert for i-D’s Summer of Love series to tell the story of two queer lovers in Barcelona. Even in a recent music video for Tofel Santana’s song “Vamp,” Adef crafted a story of extreme masculinity breaking down into an orgy.
Through his lens, Adef has found a means of confronting his childhood of forced masculinity and suppressed sexuality. “As a teenager, I remember being an observer, watching the other boys at school, how they relate, what they like, and how they act,” he said. “It took a lot for me to deconstruct that idea, but doing it in an artistic way has helped me a lot. I grew up in a social circle where there was only one kind of masculinity, and it took me some time to open that circle. The Internet helped me start breaking down that idea, but it also came from traveling and meeting different guys from different backgrounds.”
Adef’s work at large has created a complex dialogue about identity, but he’s also created a new reality for himself. Far-removed from an adolescence he spent holding back. Adef has turned his lens on the young people celebrating themselves in all their queer glory. “I was repressing all my feelings,” he said. “That’s why I think that all these ideas in my films are fantasies of what I could have lived if I would have been free to live and express my desires.”