Even from one-two years back, we’ve been meaning to start exploring lgbt-themed films both for our pleasure -as an extention of GL and BL stories- and to learn more about the cinematography of a community we’re part of. For the most part, don’t expect analytical posts; we’ll sum up our impressions, positive and negative, of the titles gathered every time and either recommend or discourage you from watching something you might regret. There’s always the possibility though, that we’ll find something so impressive and praise-worthy that we’ll dedicate a whole post to it.
For the first installment, we’ll take a look at 5 lesbian films -all of whom had lesbian directors. The films are reviewed in the order we watched them.
F: I think, this is the first lesbian film I ever saw. I wanted to watch it with company without my homophobic parents noticing so, if my memory serves me right, I must have watched it with an older female friend who usually wasn’t very excited about the films I suggested. Not sure if this setting contributed in my disappointment with The Kids Are Alright, but I doubt. I understand that Cholodenko wanted to show that same-sex families don’t differ that much from conventional families, the way she went about it, though, made me sour. Ok, lesbians are people, too, of course they make mistakes as well. But does a lesbian director and film writer feels such a great need to reestablish all the stereotypes, especially when things aren’t that rosy for lgbtq individuals and couples? I disliked how the couple was literally a replica of a heterosexual couple with the butch, being assigned male characteristics: she’s the ‘law’ at home, restrictive as a father, and so much carrier-driven that neglects her partner; the femme on the other hand is the stay-at-home mom who hasn’t achieved much in her life and who cheats her wife with the first man who compliments her -pathetic, if I may say. The sperm donor isn’t likeable either and I wouldn’t say he has refined manners. At the end of the movie, I was left wondering how the family will go on. I also was kinda expecting something more on the issue of (not) disclosing the identity of their ‘father’ to the children.
N: I have to agree with Foxy. First of all, I must say it was not very convincing in its original goal, to show that lesbian couples are like all other couples. Being normal, or if you prefer average, does not equal having a power imbalance, or indifference between the spouses. I watch the film alongside my father and mother hoping that the movie would be able to make them reconsider their view on same-sex parents and, as you may imagine, I failed completely. Unfortunately, beyond being awfully stereotypical the movie is also boring. It’s not as if there is nothing going on, but somehow the developments left me uninterested. A big disappointment overall.
F: The World Unseen was the first lesbian film I watched with Neko-kun, being all lovey-dovey and perhaps easily distracted, so my memory of it is hazey. This also might say something about the film itself, not being memorable and all… It is weird how many praises and prizes it’s got and how many bad reviews it received. I’ll say it’s an ok film with an interesting setting and sweet tenderness between two pretty ladies going against a racist, sexist and homophobic world. The relationship between a black man and a white lady, both of a certain age, was sweet and painful at the same time. Shamim Sarif’s roots in South Africa were her inspiration to write her first novel and then turn it into a film, so we might attempt her other works later as well.
F: The best out of what I’ve seen up to now, Better Than Chocolate touches many serious issues like censorship of lgbt literature and discrimination in PDA without drowning in drama. It’s actually very sweet and approaches everything through personal and wider interactions in a small neighborhood. Although some might nag about the coming out cliche that creates friction between the partners or even the sappy, too-artistic-for-life sex scene, I enjoyed everything thoroughly. The inclusion of a trans woman is more than positive, especially since she does have her own story within the larger narrative: she isn’t made fun of, she did have a not so loving family but she isn’t stuck in the past and tries her best despite any aggression towards her identity, and she does get a happy ending of her own as far as her love life is concerned.
N: What I truly loved about this movie is that it treats its characters with great respect. All of them get some screen time, so the plot does not exclusively revolve around the main couple. What made an impression on me is that it showed discrimination both in and out of the lgbt community. I like how we see that such discrimination does not always come in the form of blind hatred -the restaurant owner was supposedly a friend and a partner of our protagonists, but he had no issues scolding them over a public kiss. It is also important to note it showed, using Maggie’s brother, how sexuality is more complicated than most of us think, even for heterosexual relationships. As a sidenote, I couldn’t stop laughing every time Maggie’s mother found another sex toy -I can relate to that experience very well and it’s incredibly funny. I have to agree with Foxy that among the titles in the list this is by far the best.
F: I have no idea why would anyone call When Night Is Falling a classic. Then again, classic doesn’t equal masterpiece… One of the main protagonists, Camille, is a teacher like me, so I had my eyes on the title for a long time to see how her profession would class or not with her sexuality. The first minutes into the film look interesting with the presentation of Camille’s and her fiance’s worldviews which starkly contrast one another but everything onwards is dull and badly written. There is no chemistry between the two women and the sex scenes didn’t move me a bit. The worst thing though is how the lesbian character is presented: she works a circus, a place which deals with illusions and ‘magic’ and her flirt is aggressive. Consider this along with the fact she’s a WOC (the only one in the circus) and the results are disastrous. I usually don’t mind exotification, but Patricia Rozema somehow made me cringe. For those who still don’t understand what I’m talking about: Petra’s race and sexual identity are stereotypically tied to wilderness and the sex scenes are done in ‘exotic’ fabulous sheets and among fancy pillows. Not to mention the contrast between Camille’s Christian background with Petra’s paganistic one. It’s like Petra is a wild animal who preyed upon the straight Camille and enchanted her.
N: From my point of view, all of these flaws could be forgiven if there was anything going on that was worth our time. But from the mediocre performances to the indifferent soundtrack and the dull sex scenes, there was nothing inspirational. There was a plethora of ridiculous moments -I think Camille’s reaction to her dog’s death is one of the most unconvincing story element in the history of the film industry. Even the drama near the end of the movie seemed fake and rushed, especially when it came to the side characters. I can only recommend this title as a piece of history, but as a piece of entertainment it is as dead and cold as a dinosaur bone.
F: Spider Lilies certainly is special in that the romance doesn’t dominate the whole film and I don’t mean it in a negative way. Zero Chou had intented for things to be like that, since she wanted to make a film “about lesbian relationships, not homosexuality”. Jade, the webcam girl, and Takeko, a tattoo artist, suffer from their own traumas and so the film is preoccupied with them as people above all else. The fact that Takeko had a girlfriend even before experiencing her traumatic loss is important because thanks to this sexual identity isn’t presented as a result of unfortunate circumstances. So, we definitely have something good over here. But the ending of the film is rushed. Moreover, for a work dealing with trauma, a deus ex machina isn’t quite acceptable if you consider that by-passing the trauma doesn’t show good character development and in real life it would mean that the person wouldn’t have confronted her/his fears, losing the chance to grow up.
N: What I loved about this film is that it is a strong, dark story. There is a lot of symbolism going around, the characters are easily distinguishable and interesting, the pace is slow but that helps the viewer to get to know what the personalities of those people. There is no political aspect, no sociological interpretations, nothing more than it should be. It is everyday people with traumas, bad experiences, sexual and personal needs that fill up the stage, not abstract ideologies. Had the movie had a stronger ending, I think it would have made a huge impact on me, but it still remains a title worth of those 94 minutes from your life.