Imagine this: a lesbian relationship in film is depicted with depth, authenticity and never gets trapped in a stereotypical lens. The characters involved give the audience something they can connect with, and maybe even feel prouder to be themselves.
Easy enough, right? But unfortunately, we often see the exact opposite when it comes to queer female romance in cinema.
Independent lesbian drama Below Her Mouth recently made its USA debut (a year after its initial Canadian release). Created by an all-female crew, it follows a steamy love affair between Dallas (Erika Linder) and Jasmine (Natalie Krill) that makes them both re-evaluate their lives.
The film may have contained gorgeous cinematography and eliminated the male gaze, but unfortunately, there were some lingering downfalls too. Below Her Mouth was advertised as a sensational, life-awakening masterpiece — so what exactly went wrong? Let's examine.
A Forced Connection
While doing construction work on Jasmine’s home, Dallas immediately takes notice of her, but it's only after the pair run into each other at an all-girl party that they share their first interaction. Fresh out of a failed relationship, Dallas is ready to get back in the game and confidently makes Jasmine her target. She is clearly ambivalent towards Dallas' approach, not to mention that neither Dallas nor the audience are aware of Jasmine's true sexuality. But that didn't stop Dallas from chasing her around the club all night, refusing to take "no" for an answer. Instead of being alluring, this was actually borderline harassment.
Eventually, Jasmine gave in and the girls' connection evolved over time, but their early encounters were contrived, and there was barely any room to breath.
Emphasizing Sex Scenes Placed Other Important Elements On the Back Burner
The focal objective of Below Her Mouth was to illuminate sex and love from a woman's perspective. In an interview with AfterEllen, director April Mullen discusses how an all-female team brought fresh ideas to life:
Most of what we experience in terms of the general public and as audience members is predominately sex directed by men, written by men, and usually to turn men on. But we really felt underrepresented in terms of the female perspective of what is sex for us, what defines our pleasures, our desires. If it was written by a woman, if it could be directed by a woman, played for women, and if we could have every key person creatively giving that female touch throughout the whole film, what would that truly look like? I feel like we were successful in that original intention.
When it comes to depictions of lesbian sex in film, a male versus female perspective makes a vast difference. The erotic moments in neo-noir classic Bound were choreographed by feminist and sex educator, Susie Bright, and widely applauded for its effort. Conversely, Blue Is the Warmest Color received lots of heat for the direction of its sex scenes which were guided by a male director.
Below Her Mouth triumphed in the carnal department with authenticity, but this dominated the film’s fleeting hour-and-a-half. In turn, the scope to develop the characters, their connection and their journey had vanished.
The Common Engagement Plot
It’s all too common in lesbian movies for a female protagonist to be dating or engaged to a man. That's exactly the case with Below Her Mouth’s Jasmine, as she is in the midst of planning a wedding with her fiancé, Rile. Their relationship eventually draws to a close after he walks in on an intimate moment between Jasmine and Dallas. Rile forces her to break it off with Dallas, but in the end, the love shared among the women was too powerful.
We've received this plot before in fan-favorite lesbian flicks such as Imagine Me & You and Kiss Me, but after a while, this device becomes recycled and thoughtless. Not only is the idea overused, but it also perpetuates the stereotype that queer woman are overly promiscuous. Above all, harmful queer stereotypes should have no place in cinema, or anywhere for that matter.
While Below Her Mouth demonstrated that female voices in cinema are vital, this movie didn't excel as the groundbreaker it should have been. Let's remain hopeful that a female-guided lesbian romance comes to fruition again soon, but gives us the representation and depth that we deserve.
What are your thoughts on Below Her Mouth? Let us know in the comments!