I am the Tigress

Directors: Philipp Fussenegger, Dino Osmanoviç (USA, Germany). Year of Release: 2022

A phone video of a woman dancing in her underwear, muscles rippling. R&B music plays in the background. The woman addresses her audience, talking about body positivity and telling them that she’s there especially for them. At the end of the dance, she calls out to them: “Look at you. Look what you’ve done. Look what you’ve created. Do you like that? And I will say to myself in the mirror: Yeah, I do like this. […] I like what I have created.”

Tischa is, in a literal sense, a self-made woman. She is 47 and used to be 300 pounds and has cut her weight by a third. She has also developed huge 17 inch muscles – in a later video for her followers, she calls them her “penis pinchers or cock crunchers”. She is evidently proud of her new body, and spends serious amounts of time doing weights in the gym.

Shortly after the opening scene, we see Tischa in a body building contest. In the changing room afterwards, she looks particularly narked. Some of the recent work she’d had done recently hadn’t worked properly, and her body had started leaking on stage. On her way home, she gets abuse on the street from passers by telling he she’s not a real woman.

I think it’s fair to say that Tischa is a little prickly. A meeting with her daughter and grandchildren quickly turns into a flaming row. Later, when she only comes sixth in a contest, she looks devastated. When she is not on stage or camera, she takes her lack of confidence out on other people. In this respect “other people” generally means Eddie.

It takes us a while to work out the exact relationship between Tischa and Eddie. He’s always there to accompany her on her travels, carrying her bags and smoothing out her problems. You first assume that they must be married or partners, even though Eddie seems much older than Tischa, much smaller, much hairier. Later on, though, she accuses him of cramping her style, of making people think that she’s taken when in fact she’s an attractive single woman.

While they are eating, Eddie makes a crude generalisation about all Romanian athletes being on steroids. Tischa takes him up on this, telling him that he has no facts backing up his claims. She’s probably right, but things become so awkward, so tense, so quickly that they find it hard to even talk to each other civilly. You get the feeling that their interactions often end up like this.

When she’s not in competition or addressing her followers, Tischa makes some money as a dominatrix. We see a session of her with a man who she orders around and threatens with violence. Now, I know that there are people who are into this sort of thing, but it comes across as singularly unappealing. When the session is over, Eddie asks Tischa for a blow-by-blow account.

I’m not sure that we ever get a full understanding of what Tischa and Eddie want from life, or even if they know themselves. After Tischa’s hopes of becoming world champion are dashed, she loses orientation. She decides to move from New York to Florida. Eddie, loyal to the last, says that he’ll come with her. In fact, why don’t they just move out and go there immediately? It’s not really clear whether they know what they’ll do when they get there.

While they are in Florida looking at flats, they visit a nudist beach. It feels almost as if they are trying to confound our expectations of them. Eddie pulls out a ring (from who knows where) and asks Tischa to marry him – purely for tax and insurance purposes of course, it won’t affect how they act together at all. When Eddie falls ill, we see why Eddie might want Tischa to qualify from his insurance.

I’m not really sure what the message of I am the Tigress is, nor if a film really needs to have a message. Are we supposed to be impressed by Tischa or slightly intimidated? Is the film supporting her or mocking her a little? While the people who abuse her on the street are obviously behaving despicably, she seems to be a little too ambitious and vain to be truly sympathetic. And what’s with Eddie? Why does he just sit there and take whatever she throws at him?

For all this, and despite Tischa’s extreme appearance, I am the Tigress does not end up as a zoo or a freak show. Yes, the main characters may behave a little oddly sometimes, they are always portrayed sympathetically and as people who – more or less – know what they are doing. Not necessarily people we would like to spend much time with, but there is a certain fascination about watching them live their lives.

I’m still uneasy about why the director wanted to make this particular film, but there is an affability, a slice of life that makes I am the Tigress worth a watch. It’s not groundbreaking cinema, but that’s not always what we need.

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