Monday, August 20, 2012

Lesbian Movies: Part Three

Presentiiiiing my third multiple-movie post! It's rather...longer than my previous multi-movie posts, found here and here.

If you want to see me write about a lesbian movie you like or have heard is good (please don't recommend, say, Claire of the Moon), let me know!

Blue Gate Crossing (藍色大門):
Thanks to Day and Diabolical Shih Tzu for putting this on my radar!

Meng is in love with her best friend Lin, who has her sights locked on Zhang, a guy at their school. Lin hasn't spoken to Zhang, but she has amassed a collection of things belonging to him (pencils, a basketball, etc) that she's swiped. She even thinks writing Zhang's name over and over in a notebook until her pen runs out of ink will make him like her. Ah, young love.

Lin drags Meng to their school at night to secretly watch Zhang swim in the school pool. Sick of Lin's "OMG I like this guy but instead of telling him I'm going to keep talking to you about how I can't tell him my feelings," Meng shouts to Zhang that her friend Lin wants to tell him something. Meng tells Zhang that her friend Lin likes him, but can't introduce him to Lin since Lin ran away as soon as Meng started shouting. So Zhang thinks that there is no Lin and Meng was confessing her feelings to him in a roundabout way. Since Zhang has no experience dating, he's bowled over by the idea of Meng liking him even though he has no idea who she is and starts trying to woo her.

Lin continues to be a dumbass, sending Zhang a love letter signed with Meng's name- a misunderstanding Meng clears up, although it doesn't prevent her from being bullied a little by another girl who likes Zhang. Lin tries to make herself like Zhang, and kisses him to see if she can like guys, but nope, it's about as enjoyable as pecking her great aunt. She confesses her feelings to Lin by kissing her and waiting to see what she does... and Lin completely ignores her after that. Not in a "Holy shit, that was unexpected and awkward. I need to process that my best friend just kissed me" way, but an "Ewwww,  you're gay? Keep your gay germs away from me" way. Poor Meng. Lin was a shitty friend, though (we don't see Lin do anything for Meng or ask her how she is), so not like she would have been much of a girlfriend. And Zhang, who does meet Lin, doesn't like her and ignores her too.

Lin = Slappable, although I could relate to her doing stupid shit while pining over someone in high school. (Although not on the level of, say, taping a photocopy of my crush's face over someone else's and pretending I was spending time with my crush instead of the person under the photocopy.)

Zhang = My feelings about him are more mixed. After Lin rejects Meng, Meng gets that it's a lost cause. Even after Meng rejects Zhang- to the extent of admitting that she isn't into guys- Zhang becomes obnoxious, in continuing to let Meng know that he thinks he'll have a chance at some point. On the one hand, he is a good friend to Meng at times, but on the other hand, move on dude. After Lin rejects Meng, Zhang seems to be the only person interested in being friends with Meng, but his obvious hope that she'll somehow like him back even though she has utterly rejected him as a lover kind of taints that. I wouldn't mind him still being friends with her even though he likes her- but only if he doesn't expect her to like him back and can really settle for the possibility of friendship only, knowing that it was just a crush on his part and he'll get over her eventually. I know he's just a high schooler, but some of his behavior struck a nerve because some men don't take women seriously when they decline their interest on the basis of being gay, and can be really obnoxious (sometimes even dangerous) about it. (Ignoring someone's rejection is obnoxious regardless of their reason for rejection, but it takes a special kind of assholery to be like "Hurr durr, you say you aren't interested in guys, but all I heard was blah blah blah.")

Meng = Meng, sweetie, the internet is your friend. Find likeminded people- and fiction, shows, movies- to tide you over until you can meet other women who like women (who you know like women- chances are you already have met some but couldn't tell, just like people can't tell when they meet you) in real life. Things are getting better on a broader scale, and things will get better for you. You might think "Shit, that's easy to say," but I was in similar shoes once, and I swear to god it's true.


Trailer here.

Desert Hearts
Desert Hearts (1985) is the first lesbian movie to give its leads a happy ending since Mädchen in Uniform came out in Germany in 1931. Even then, Mädchen in Uniform suffered from having its happy ending edited away- and then being banned altogether- by the Third Reich, although it evaded being destroyed altogether. But yeah, can you imagine? Before Desert Hearts came out, your only option for a happy lesbian movie was to dig up the original version of a movie from 1931. I haven't seen Mädchen in Uniform yet.

Desert Hearts is about Vivian, an English lit professor who travels to Nevada to get the six week residency she needs to divorce her husband. There, quiet, buttoned up Vivian meets a free-spirited sculptor named Cay. Vivian gets her groove back with Cay, gets her divorce finalized, will she and Cay deal with her impending return to New York? This movie leaves that issue open-ended, but makes it clear they'll work things out.

A popular lesbian romance story type is that of the protagonist who thinks she's only interested in guys- usually married to/engaged to/dating a man who she might like/love as a close friend/be attracted to, but isn't in love with- and is dissatisfied with her life without knowing why, until she meets a hot, charismatic lesbian who's comfortable in her own skin and amazing in bed, and the protagonist is bowled over by her electrifying attraction to the lesbian, which turns out to be love. Obviously there are variations- like in Onozucca Kahori's Love Slave (whose protagonist Ureha already knew she liked women, but stopped repressing it after meeting Sawori- and eventually broke up with Sawori), or Sakurazawa Erica's Love Vibes (the only example of this story type I can think of in which the protagonist's love interest is bisexual instead of gay; I guess you could kind of count Kissing Jessica Stein, even though it varies a lot more from the story type I outlined). Imagine Me & You and Tsukumo Mutsumi's Moonlight Flowers are two (quite good, especially the wonderfulness that is Moonlight Flowers) examples of this story type played completely straight. But anyway, Desert Hearts is the earliest film example of this story formula I've found.

How was the movie itself? It was sweet. The story type this movie follows is one that I've already seen in lesbian movies...a lot. (Not so much in lesbian fiction, where there's more variety.) I'm kind of tired of it, actually. lol Burn out from encountering so many examples of this story type aside...even though I've enjoyed several examples of it, when looking for lesbian romance in different media- esp when it comes to adult protagonists- I especially crave characters who like women and know it, and already have coming out to themselves of the way. Since, you know, life doesn't halt after you come out.

I had to remind myself that this movie was the earliest example of its story type on film (the novel it adapts, Jane Rule's Desert of the Heart, was published in 1964) and came out before its scenario was a lesbian romance standard. But again, it was sweet, and it was well-acted. Helen Shaver (Vivian) and Patricia Charbonneau (Cay) have great chemistry together, which makes the movie work for me even though I'm kind of sick of its story type right now.

Trailer here.

I Can't Think Straight:
Tala is engaged for the fifth time and Leyla has a boyfriend. Tala knows she likes women but has decided it's easier to stay in the closet. She comes from one of the richest, most prominent families in Jordan, so extra pressure there to marry the "right" kind of person.

Leyla has had a sense of why she has never been into any of the men she's dated (, period) for a long time, but, like so many in denial, came up with loads of irrational rationalizations to convince herself she isn't gay. Tala and Leyla meet and fall in love. Even though Leyla started as the one in denial (and Tala as the confident outspokenness to Leyla's hesitation and reserve), she comes out to her family and friends much more quickly than Tala. After chickening out of their relationship, Tala breaks off her engagement- but not before Leyla starts dating another woman. How will Tala win back Leyla?

Another cute movie- the kind you watch for something feel-good or snuggling up with someone for a date night. Also recced for that:
Better Than Chocolate
But I'm A Cheerleader     Best choice on this list for lols.
D.E.B.S.    Aside from the hot lesbian villain, I thought it was kind meh, but a lot of people like it.
Desert Hearts
Imagine Me & You 
Leading Ladies 
Love My Life
Loving Annabelle     If you/you and your s.o. A) watch the extended ending and B) don't mind that this movie's basically guilty pleasure romantic fantasy fluff for anyone who's gone weak-kneed for a teacher or professor, even though they (should) know that student-teacher affairs are a shitty idea in real life. "What about Bloomington? Have you seen it?" you might ask. I have. It is one of the most boring, irritating movies I've sat through. I haven't seen Loving Annabelle in years, but I remember it definitely being more watchable than Bloomington.
Nina's Heavenly Delights
Room In Rome
Saving Face
Yes or No   Why isn't this licensed in English yet?

I haven't seen Show Me Love or Kiss Me, but they sound like they count.

I liked I Can't Think Straight as a sweet, happy-ever-after kind of movie, even though its "Two women realize they like each other, one or both them comes out after a lot of soul-searching, yay they can be together" plot isn't anything new for lesbian movies and the getting-together-in-an-affair-way trope has been done to death. (Man, this is my most jaded lesbian movie post, isn't it.)

Tala and Leyla's coming out make up the bulk of this movie, so there's a lot of coming out angst, but it's balanced out by the lovey-dovey bits (mmm, that dance scene- and its aftermath; the book signing scene is another favorite), the sprinkles of humor throughout the movie (tied between Leyla's sister's assessment of Leyla's book and CD collection and Ali's reaction to Tala's reaction to the news that Leyla came out), and the all-around happy resolution. Leyla's dad's reaction to Leyla's coming out is great, and Tala's dad doesn't seem bothered by it. Tala's mom reacts badly, but the movie portrays her as a snobby-rich-lady-who's-clueless-about-everything caricature, so it's hard to take her too seriously, even when she lashes out at Tala. Leyla's mom also reacts badly, but supports Leyla and Tala by the end.

Trailer here.

Nina's Heavenly Delights:
Yessss, a lesbian foodie movie. ^__^

Man, this is a really cute movie. It reminds me of Better Than Chocolate in how it's really cheesy, but in an endearing way. 

Nina Shah returns to her family's home in Glasgow for her father's funeral, after having been estranged from them for three years. Her family runs an Indian restaurant- one of the best- and Nina was engaged three years ago to the son of another Indian restaurant-owning family. (I guess the plan was to neutralize the threat of each competing Indian restaurant, one union at a time, like those old political marriages between warring nations?) But Nina is gay and couldn't go through with it, so she left.

Nina feels horrible about not making up with her father before he died- not helped by others assholishly guilt-tripping her about it. Nobody in Glasgow knows she's gay, aside from her flamboyant friend Bobbi and his boyfriend.

Nina finds out that her father was in debt and bet half-ownership of the restaurant in the hopes of clearing it- but he lost, so the restaurant is partly owned by the family of Nina's childhood friend Lisa. Nina isn't happy about it, but she's a lot more pissed when she finds out that her mom and brother want to sell the restaurant to her smarmy ex-fiancee Sanjay's family. With Lisa's help, Nina decides to save the restaurant by winning the televised Best of the West Curry Competition, which her father won previously and hoped to win again with her.

Sparks fly between Nina and Lisa, but oh no! Lisa is engaged to Nina's brother. I want to send whoever made this movie flowers for subverting the getting-together-in-an-affair-way lesbian movie trope the way this movie does.

Nina's brother and sister have their own secrets, which they tell their mom about. Nina's mom figures out that Nina and Lisa love each other, but waits to see if Nina will come out about it on her own. The Best of the West competition finally arrives, and Sanjay tries to sabotage Nina and Lisa's relationship after the competition starts (even he can tell what's between them) so they'll lose. How will it resolve!? Dun dun dun.

So yeah, I really like this movie. I like Nina and Lisa's romance, but I also like that there's more going on in Nina's life than her romance with Lisa and coming out, and how the romantic and non-romantic themes (like family) in this movie contribute to each others' development. The lovingly shot cooking scenes made me hungry, which is a good sign for any foodie movie.

Plus, how many lesbian movies end with a Bollywood-style musical number featuring all of the characters?

Trailer here.

Pariah's protagonist, 17 year-old Alike, is already out to herself, but brand new in the lesbian community and still finding her sea legs in it. What I like most about this movie is its portrayal of being newly out in the lesbian community as a teen, since it reminds me of my own flailings as a shiny new lesbian at college, looking up to the older students who'd been out and about longer, and (from the point of view of relating to Alike's older friend Laura) seeing the bright-eyed gay freshmen in later years who looked to me and my fellow gay upperclasswomen as models. That kind of platonic mentor friendship is nice to see here. Pretty much anyone who came out in the lesbian community as a teen will smile knowingly at the newly-out-in-the-community aspect of this movie, but it's so well-written and acted that anyone should be able to enjoy it.

In most lesbian movies, when a character comes out to her parents, one parent is the good (supportive) parent and one parent is the bad (non-supportive) parent, but this movie complicates that dynamic. Alike's dad knows that she is gay and quietly supports her- more actively when a homophobe insults her in front of him when she isn't around and later, after she comes out to he and her mom and her mom freaks out. But his defense of his daughter isn't the only thing causing tension between he and his wife- he's having an affair. This movie also paints a warm, vivid picture of what Alike's relationship of her mom was once like (see: the leaf anecdote) in contrast to her mom's reaction, making it all the more poignant when Alike's dad tries to convince her that her mom does love her deep down. I'm actually tearing up a little remembering that scene. In a way, it's good to have a movie that deals with a homophobic parent's reaction, in all of its rawness, and shows its protagonist getting through it and still finding that coming out made her life better even though that parent has not come around (although the protagonist would love it to be otherwise), since she's living her life without lying about who she is.

Alike also gets a love interest, Bina, the feminine-looking churchgoing girl who Alike's mom encourages her to spend time with instead of butchy Laura. Long story short, Bina isn't worthy of Alike (sucks massively, but most people have to kiss some frogs before finding whoever's right for them; join the club, Alike) but, as she does after her mom's reaction, Alike is able to move forward. (To college!)

Trailer here.

The Owls:
The best thing about this movie is that it's only about an hour long. (Not counting the bonus interviews with the cast that appear at the end- and inexplicably, a few minutes in the middle- of this movie.)

I went into this movie expecting a murder mystery, but all I got was about an hour of its protagonists (two lesbian couples who used to be in a band) bitching about their mid-life crises and how much they hate each other, with a resolution to the accidental killing they covered up tacked on to the end.
I loathed every one of these characters. If I were stuck in a room with them, I would bash my head against a wall in the hopes of passing out. The only one I sympathized with at all was this movie's fifth protagonist (not shown in the picture above, which includes the woman who was accidentally killed along with the two couples), when she expressed her disbelief at how utterly obnoxious and dull the other characters are.

Shitty characterization aside (not aided by the torpid acting), the background music is as subtle as a hammer to the head and the over-zealously edited cinematography bludgeons us with the fact that this movie is supposed to be creepy and mysterious, but in a deep, indie way. Nope, not creepy, not mysterious, not interesting in the least. Thirty minutes into it, I made the window I was watching it on (via Netflix streaming) smaller so that I could pull up another window and check my email and other sites while letting this movie finish.

Trailer here.

The Ultimate Lesbian Short Film Festival:
This film collection wasn't on my radar until I saw it on Netflix streaming. It's advertised as including shorts by filmmakers from the US, Canada and Australia, but you'll see that there are only two(-ish) non-US films. (IMDB lists one as a US and Canadian film, without explaining why, so I'm not quite sure how to count it.) My rundown on each short is listed below.

"A Woman Reported" (5 minutes, US)- A surreal- and terrifying- short about a woman running away from two men who attack her (apparently because they realized she was talking to her girlfriend- or wife, can't tell- on the phone) after she gets out of her car near some woods. Lesson of the story: If you're hiding from huge, scary people, be sure to turn off your cell phone.

"Dani & Alice" (11 minutes, Canada/US)- Terrifying in its own way, about the end of a physically abusive relationship. Well done for what it's supposed to be, but obviously hard to watch.

"Frozen Smile" (8 minutes, US)- One of the most puzzling shorts in this collection. A goth teenager visits her grandpa's grave with her mom and grandma, where it turns out the headstone engraver screwed up. I'm not sure how this is a lesbian film. I guess we're supposed to read the short-haired teenager as gay...?

"Everything Good" (17 minutes, US)- A woman staying in Amsterdam (whose girlfriend or wife- again, can't tell- is back home) orders a prostitute up to her room. Funny at points, despite the guilt-making premise- but mostly meh. Despite the subject matter and copious amounts of talking about getting ready for sex, dental dams, etc, there isn't any actual graphic sex or nudity in this short. That isn't why I thought it was meh. lol I just wish some interesting character development had showed up before the very end of the movie.

"Saint Henry" (20 minutes, US)- A lesbian teen and her gay best friend half-heartedly try to car-jack a man at gun point (because her dad is in jail for car-jacking, and she thinks that if she does the same thing, she'll be sent to the men's prison where he is and be able to see him again?), but don't actually do it and decide to hide in an abandoned church until morning. The girl finds a dead man in the confessional booth and closes his eyes, lays him down on some cloth, and covers him with another cloth before she and her friend leave in the morning. Okay...

"Blow" (7 minutes, Australia)- My favorite in this collection, a cute short about a teen who has sneezing fits day after day until she gets together with her crush. Out of all the stories in this collection, this one feels the most complete.

"Transit" (4 minutes, US)- Frustratingly brief, about a woman whose eyes meet another woman's on the subway.

"Half-Laughing" (12 minutes, US)- A really sad short about a woman who goes to her parents' home for her grandpa's funeral. Her mom tries to makes her cover her butchy buzzcut with an ugly wig at the funeral, causing them to blow up at each other over why the mom is so obsessed with making her daughter not "look gay."

"Tina Paulina: Living on Hope Street" (9 minutes, US)- Unlike the other films in this collection, this is a mini-documentary, in which the director interviews a homeless woman who she somes across while looking for film subjects in Los Angeles. The interviewer does a good job making her subject comfortable enough to give us a thorough picture of who she is without holding back much, for better or worse. In the spring semester of my junior year of college, I took a "Documenting Lesbian Lives" class in which each student's final project was to do a two hour camera-recorded interview with a queer woman over 45 (focusing on her life story) and transcribe it- making me better appreciate what it takes to interview a subject on camera as well as this film's interviewer did.

"The Black Plum"(15 minutes, US)- So this ghost plants a plum outside a country house where a baby is being born. 10 or so years later, the plum is now a plum tree and the baby is now a kid who likes climbing said tree. The kid falls out of the tree, cutting and scraping herself, and the ghost pulls up in a car and asks the kid if she wants a ride. Not being aware of stranger danger, the kid gets in, and the ghost takes her to the cabin where she lives with her ghost wife. Together, they're a butch-femme pair meant to be role models for the kid. They give the kid a compass (subtle symbolism) and the ghost femme takes the kid back home. This film has its heart in the right place,'s so, so corny.

Calling this collection The Ultimate Lesbian Film Festival is a massive overstatement, but it has a few pieces I thought were interesting. You aren't missing much by skipping it, but it isn't bad either, and there was a good effort made for variety- thematically at least. For a collection of ten short films, it's disappointing and problematic that only one of them ("Dani & Alice," whose leads are black) stars non-white characters.

Céline Sciamma has a gift for writing and directing stories about lgbtq children and teens. (Sort of the Shimura Takako of French cinema, if you will.)

A new family moves into an apartment complex, including 10 year old Laure. Laure presents as "Mickael" to the other kids in the area- joining the boys in the horseplay that they wouldn't want Laure to join if they knew Laure's sex, and befriending Lisa, a girl from the same apartment complex. Laure gets a puppy crush on Lisa and Lisa likes Laure back, and the summer vacation passes pleasantly. The only person who knows about Laure's double life is Laure's little sister, who doesn't care as long as Laure brings her along to play with the other kids. Laure's secret has to come out at some point, but I won't spoil how or what its result is.

Like Water Lilies, Tomboy is a very well-written, well-acted, heart-tugging movie that gets everything it's trying to do right. Just as Water Lilies captures the clumsy awkwardness of navigating adolescence, Tomboy captures a lot of the fun and wonder of childhood. And just as I linked to an excellent analysis of Water Lilies in my most recent lesbian movie post, I'll link to a review of Tomboy here that articulates why this movie is worth watching in more detail (without spoiling) than I have, regardless of how you read (or choose not to read) its protagonist's sexual or gender identity.

Trailer here.

Kiss Me is coming out on DVD in North America on November 6! It's already available in the UK. Jamie & Jessie Are Not Together is also available in the UK, although (ironically, since it's a US movie) it doesn't have a North American DVD date yet.

And here is the plot synopsis and trailer for Yes or No's sequel, which recently came out (hurr) in Thailand. I thought Yes or No was really cute, so I'm looking forward to its sequel!


Duskren said...

It's been a long time Kat! *waves like a ninny* Not sure if you remember though but that's alright. Just wanted to recommend another movie to you. Look up the movie, "Saving Face" sometime. A personal favorite of mine heh. You may or may not like it. Until then, take it easy!

Katherine Hanson said...

@Duskren- Hey! *waves back* Of course I remember you. ^_^ It's good to hear from you again!

Thanks for the rec! I have seen Saving Face (own it, actually), and it's a favorite of mine also. I wrote a mini-review of it a while ago. (