Lesbian films from around the world (PART 1/2)

For almost two years I’ve been building up mini reviews of every film I’ve ever seen that prominantly features queer women – but for Pride month 2017 I wanted to focus specifically on worldwide representations of LGBTQA+ women. I’ve seen over 300 films about queer women (n.b. I say ‘queer’ instead of ‘lesbian’ as I want to include bisexual, pansexual, asexual etc. women too), and this list alone includes over 70, so I like to think I’m qualified to compile this list! In trying to find as many films from as many countries as possible, there’s a real range included in this list – from cinematic masterpieces to breezy romcoms and trope-heavy dramas – but hopefully from the brief descriptions you can pick and choose for yourself.

While I’ve tried to feature as many countries as possible in these posts (determining their country via IMDb) however of course some countries have far more films in this category than others. Needless to say, I’ll have missed some countries and some films so do let me know any reccomendations I can add to my list! In general, I’ve limited myself to a maximum of four films per country (though a lot of countries I could only find one or two), however for some countries I’ve added a few extra suggestions of films I either haven’t personally seen, or didn’t particularly enjoy, but I wanted to provide the biggest range of films possible. As I found so many films I decided to split this list into two posts, with 11 countries included in this post and the last 10 in a post to come in the next few weeks, so keep an eye out for that.

Note: To make this post consistent and easier to find the films, the majority of the titles are listed in English (going by the films’ IMDb page); although many of the original titles may be in a different language and many have alternate release titles for different countries.

United Kingdom

1. Imagine Me & You (2005)
Written and directed by: Ol Parker Starring: Lena Heady & Piper Perabo
I will proudly state that Imagine Me & You is in my top ten favourite films of all time. It’s funny, it’s heartfelt, it doesn’t confine the characters to stereotypes and it makes you happy. It’s a typical romcom, but it happens to be about two women, and that is what I love most – it makes me feel like I’m watching a ‘normal’ film, not a ‘gay film’ (although I love films which are out and proud queer), but this sense of casualness normalises the queerness, and makes it more accessible to straight viewers. In addition, the supporting characters are very well written and loveable – this is the only girl-leaves-guy-for-girl film I’ve ever watched where I’ve genuinely liked the guy involved, which is truly saying something. There’s also a great cameo from Anthony Stewart Head, who played Giles in Buffy!

2. My Summer of Love (2004)
Written and directed by: Pawel Pawlikoski Starring: Emily Blunt & Natalie Press
This is one of the first queer films I watched and it definitely left its mark. While not a brilliant film in and of itself – in my personal opinion – it is definitely worth watching. Set in Yorkshire, England it’s about a developing relationship between two girls from opposite socioeconomic backgrounds (I know, a story we’ve heard one too many times but it’s refreshing to be about two girls) and the end has a very surprising twist. Whether or not you like that twist, it’s certainly different. I have an irritating compulsion to predict dialogue and twists in films (and I’m 9/10 times right) however this turn took me by surprise, which I appreciate!

3. Carol (2015) 
Written by: Phyllis Nagy Directed by: Todd Haynes Starring: Rooney Mara & Cate Blanchett
Carol is based on Patricia Highsmith’s ‘The Price of Salt’ which I coincidentally received for Christmas a few years back. As I was reading it and falling in love I found out my one of my favourite actresses, Rooney Mara, was to star in a film adaptation. I quickly became obsessed and followed the film for two years before finally dragging my friends to see it. I was not disappointed. Carol perfectly captures the essence of the book, from its characters and themes to its tone and mood. The film is stylistically exquisite and the acting is impeccable. The film somehow manages to transport you back the 50s and put you both right into the characters’ shoes and also awkwardly watching from a distance, feeling as though you’re intruding on the most magical of moments. This film is 10/10 in its film-ness and its queer-ness. If lesbian period drama coming-of-age road trip tales are your thing, watch this. Scrap that… just watch it. 

Others include: I Can’t Think Straight (Sarif, 2008), Appropriate Behaviour (Akhavan, 2014), Nina’s Heavenly Delights (Parmar, 2006)

America

1. Pariah (2011)
Written and directed by:
Dee Rees Starring: Adepero Oduye, Pernell Walker & Aasha Davis
Pariah has been on my to-watch list for ages, and I must admit I was slightly underwhelmed when I finally watched it, but I do think it is worth watching and an important film in its genre. It has wonderful cinematography and documents the coming out (both to yourself and others) process excellently. The acting definitely stood out for me, particularly of the protagonist and her parents. And it ends with the most poingnant piece of poetry that comments on life and heartbreak – a quote from which has actually been one of my favourites for years, even prior to me finally watching this film.

2. Jack & Diane (2012)
Written and directed by:
Bradley Rust Gray Starring: Juno Temple & Riley Keough
Let me start by saying this film is weird. Absolutely fucking weird. But I love it. In fact, I love Jack & Diane so much I wrote a 2,500 word essay about it for my university course last year. The film is shot beautifully, and features my favourite cinematography ever. It’s the kind of aesthetically pleasing film that you can tell someone has genuinely thought about every single inch of what’s in the frame, and as someone who is equally pedantic when making a film, I appreciate that a lot. Jack & Diane is a coming-of-age film about two teenage girls who fall into a temptuous first love, and the film honestly portrays the feelings of your first real love so damn well. It makes you feel as though you’re right back to whenever you were first truly in love, and it’s just kind of magic. The film is adorable, the acting is good, and it’s just beautiful to look at. There’s also a cameo from Kylie Minogue and a weird horror element thrown in at times, but I’ll let you discover that fully for yourself.

3. Freeheld (2015)
Written by:
Ron Nyswaner Directed by: Peter Sollett Starring: Ellen Page & Julianne Moore
I was waiting for Freeheld to be released for literal years; I remember using my tiny 3G data allowance while I was on holiday so I could watch the trailer, and I just burst into tears. This film is pure power. Of course, a film about sad lesbians is guaranteed to make you cry, but I think the power of this film lies in the true story behind it. It’s based on the Oscar-winning documentary of the same name, and follows the true story of Laurel Hester and Stacie Andree, who fought for equal rights to state pensions between hetero and homosexual couples. And it’s comforting to know the real Stacie Andree, and original documentary director Cynthia Wade (who was actually there for the last few weeks of Hester’s life) both supervised the film so it’s as accurate as a ‘based on’ film can be. All the performances are beyond excellent, and this is such an important story.

4. First Girl I Loved (2016)
Written and directed by: Kerem Sanga Starring: Dylan Gelula & Brianna Hildebrand
This film is a sheer joy to watch. It’s touching, it’s funny and it’s real. The script is excellently written – particularly the dialogue – so the characters leap off the screen and feel so three-dimensional, despite it being a short film. The narrative itself plays around with linearity so it keeps you on your toes but never confuses you and the story takes an age-old coming out story and adds depths to it. While it doesn’t end in the way you’d expect – or hope – it ends realistically and gives you a sense of possibility, which I loved. The acting is all impeccable, and it features a cameo from beloved queer comedian Cameron Esposito! All round, a charming little film and well, well worth watching.

5. But I’m a Cheerleader (1999)
Written by:
Brian Wayne Peterson Directed by: Jamie Babbit Starring: Natasha Lyonne & Clea DuVall
What can I even say about this cult classic? It’s a classic for a reason. Watching But I’m a Cheerleader is as much of a lesbian initiation as hating Jenny on The L Word. This film sparked my love for Natasha Lyonne & Clea DuVall (who recently reunited as girlfriends in DuVall’s film The Intervention (2016)) and you can see why from their chemistry in this film. It has that fun bubblegum campy aesthetic that makes it both sickening and really enjoyable to watch, and includes some beautiful cinematography. Ultimately, it’s one of the original lesbian romcoms and it should undoubtedly been at the top of your watchlist.

Others include: Desert Hearts (Deitch, 1986), The Incredibly True Adventures of 2 Girls in Love (Maggenti, 1995), Bound (The Wachowskis, 1996), Loving Annabelle (Brooks, 2006), Saving Face (Wu, 2004)

Canada

1. When Night is Falling (1995)
Written and directed by: Patricia Rozema Starring: Rachael Crawford & Pascale Bussières
One of the older films on this list is When Night is Falling, about a conservative professor at an Christian college who befriends a free-spirited acrobat. It follows the typical ‘woman meets woman and begins to question everything’ story, but it is done well. The film feels like more than just a coming out kind of film, and has a distinct feel of authenticity and warmth – yet somehow manages to leave you feeling slightly detatched from the characters. Patricia Rozema is one of my favourite directors and I would reccomend watching this, but this is undeniably a less fun and universal watch than some of the other films on this list. 

2. Lost & Delirious (2001)
Written by: Judith Thompson Directed by: Léa Pool Starring: Piper Perabo & Jessica Parè
Based on ‘The Wives of Bath’, Piper Perabo’s first forray into lesbian films is slightly less graphic than the book on which its based, however it is still heart-wrenching and one of my absolute favourite films. While Mischa Barton’s character is the protagonist, Perabo and Parè’s characters steal the show with their all girls’ boarding school secret relationship. They’re cute, funny and just rebellious enough to make you root for them. Unfortunately, however, the film also depicts the painful pressures of presumed-heterosexuality as well as it does the all-encompassing feelings of first love. In my film experience, Lost & Delirious has one of the the best cinematic depictions of heartbreak. The relationship is beautifully written and superbly acted, but it will leave you with a lump in your throat. 

3. Better Than Chocolate (1999)
Written by: Peggy Thompson Directed by: Anne Wheeler Starring: Christina Cox & Karyn Dwyer
This is the first truly ‘lesbian’ film I fell in love with, and it’s another one I dedicated some work to way back in college. Not only is the film the cliched love-at-first-sight story but it also shows and truly captures the feel and diversity of the LGBT+ community so well. From from a drag show in the local club to a bisexual woman who has to keep proving she’s ‘really bisexual’. It’s a campy romcom that deals with serious topics such as trans hate crimes, coming out and internalised homophobia. It’s truly touching, has a great soundtrack, and retains an authentic, indie and actually queer feel. 

4. Below Her Mouth (2016)
Written by:
Stephanie Fabrizi Directed by: April Mullen Starring: Erika Linder & Natalie Krill
Below Her Mouth was a much-anticipated film for me as it was made by an all-women crew and it stars androgynous model Erika Linder alongside Natalie Krill (who played Willa in the lesbian-friendly Wynonna Earp) – plus a cameo from Carmilla‘s Elise Bauman. The film itself it is sex-heavy, and feels lacking in deeper plot, however when watching it (especially from the second act) you can unequivocally tell that it was directed by a woman throughout all the intimate scenes. Technically, the cinematography is beautiful and the storytelling itself is executed from brilliant editing. There are many small, missable moments between the actors (and in the direction) in the emotionally intimate scenes that were truly realistic (and thus relatable) in a way I haven’t seen since Carol – and rarely saw before that. While I wish the plot had been more developed and unique, Below Her Mouth is a visually stunning production and it provides a sense of representation and visibility that few films offer queer women.

Others include: High Art (Cholodenko, 1998), Cloudburst (Fitzgerald, 2011), Tru Love (MacDonald & Johnston, 2013), To Each Her Own (Tobin, 2008), Route of Acceptance (Tobin, 2012)

Spain

1. Eloïse’s Lover (2009)
Written by:
Cristina Moncunill Directed by: Jesús Garay Starring: Diana Gómez & Ariadna Cabrol
I watched this film several years ago and have since been trying to find out what it was called ever since so I could rewatch it. After Googling ‘spanish lesbian painting film’ I managed to find it, but I promise it is more than that. Eloïse’s Lover (sometimes known just as Eloïse) tells the story of a young student falling in love with an older student – who of course is comfortable and confident in her sexuality. What makes Eloïse different however, is that we learn of their relationship through flashbacks from one of the girls who is in a coma. While the outer-layer of story is forgettable, it is an interesting technique that I haven’t seen elsewhere in specifically-queer films and there are many great visual metaphors throughout the film. The main plot of their relationship itself is typically sweet and touching, but nothing particularly special.

2. Room in Rome (2010)
Written and directed by:
Julio Medem Starring: Elena Anaya & Natasha Yarovenko
Despite the misleading title, this is in fact a Spanish-made film. There isn’t much to say about Room in Rome – it pretty much does what it says on the box. And that is effectively a two hour sex scene directed by a straight man. It’s a perfectly good film if you’re looking for a relatively shallow film about two women having a ‘deep attraction’ for just one night, and it has a perfectly good production value, but after seeing similar films such as Below Her Mouth come out in recent years, I do think there are better alternatives out there which actually feel like they were made with queer people in mind.

Germany

1. To Faro (2008)
Written and directed by:
Nana Neul Starring: Anjorka Strechel & Lucie Hollmann
Also known as My Friend From Faro, this film is a sweet independent film that puts a modern twist on the almost Shakespearian story of a girl falling for someone she thinks is a boy. It comments and explores identity, gender expression and sexuality from several points of view yet manages to keep these deep topics wrapped up succinctly in an endearing coming-of-age story that makes you legitimately feel for the characters.

2. Summer (2014)
Written by:
Marjolein Birens Directed by: Colette Bothof Starring: Sigrid ten Napel & Jade Olieberg
In many ways, Summer is your typical queer coming-of-age story, but it’s really the authentic performances and cinematography that make this film more than that. It explores small town life, the attitudes of older generations and how those factors can affect exploring (and coming to terms with) your sexuality. The the visuals really emphasise the languor of summer merged with the energy of a new relationship, and, despite all the drama that takes place, you find yourself leaving the film light-hearted, feeling free and hopeful.

3. Aimée & Jaguar (1999)
Written by:
Max Fäberböck & Rona Munro Directed by: Max Fäberböck Starring: Maria Schrader & Juliane Köhler
Very much a period drama which also happens to feature a queer love story, Aimée & Jaguar takes place during the ‘Battle of Berlin’, bringing you into an atmospheric, high-spirited and suspensful underground community which refuses to give in to the dismal dread of war. The acting is convincing and intense, but doesn’t lapse into melodrama and the characters feel well developed. I also consistently noted the beautiful sets – both interior and exterior – throughout the film, which give the film a sense of life and style beyond a typical war or thriller film.

France

1. Water Lilies (2007)
Written and directed by:
Céline Sciamma Starring: Pauline Acquart & Adèle Haenel
From the director of Tomboy (2011) & Girlhood (2014)Water Lilies is Sciamma’s debut feature film and it certainly started her strong. This is another film I watched when I was much younger and still ‘straight’, but on rewatches it undoubtedly has a strong independent and French film feel to it. It is subtle and slow, but doesn’t drag, and although it tells the usual coming-of-age story, it puts a unique and fresh lens on it which really showcases Sciamma’s directing abilities. Although I prefer her later films, this is a very solid debut and definitely set her up as one to watch for moving, intimate and artistic films about women.

2. Summertime (2015)
Written and directed by:
Catherine Corsini Starring: Cécile De France & Izïa Higelin
Summertime is a lovely film set in 1970s France, following an in-the-closet farmgirl and an outspoken bisexual feminist. While it sounds like another tired typical story, the film actually explores feminism and queer politics of the time beautifully, and has a wider focus than the love story. The love story itself is sweet, with well-written characters who are realistic and flawed, making you root for them even more – even the homophobic family members. I’d reccomend Summertime to anyone looking for a film with that warm, hazy feeling of politically-charged nostalgia!

3. Blue is the Warmest Colour (2012)
Written and directed by:
Abdellatif Kechiche Starring: Léa Seydoux & Adèle Exarchopoulos
When I first watched Blue is the Warmest Colour is 2012 I was in love – it was the first film I’d seen which was exquisite as a piece of film and was about two girls, and to this day I maintain it’s a beautiful film. However, like some other films on this list, it does watch (in certain scenes) like it was made by a straight man for other straight men. Having read the graphic novel it was based on, I am disappointed at some of the changes made as I think the original story was more powerful, however I still enjoy the film itself. The cinematography is just beautiful, and worth watching for that alone – but, while it lets itself down in places, it does also depict a relationship, in all its stages, very well. Unfortunately, it just at times feels like that relationship perhaps wasn’t meant to be between two girls.

Others include: Therese and Isabelle (Metzger, 1968), The Chinese Botanist’s Daughters (Sijie, 2006)

Israel

1. The Secrets (2007)
Written by: Avi Nesher & Hadar Galron Directed by: Avi Nesher Starring: Fanny Ardant & Ania Bukstein
The Secrets was very different to what I expected, but it turned out to be more interesting and have more depth than the typical love story I was expecting. It’s really more of a film which looks into Judaism and the treatment of women, with a lesbian sideplot. The film is very raw and emotional, and it certainly captivates you throughout. The sex scene is outright bizarre and overall the film feels like it kind of demonises Jewish traditions at times – however as I’m not familiar with them myself, this could be completely wrong! Nonetheless, it’s a very different take on a queer film and that alone makes it worth watching.

2. Joe + Belle (2011)
Written and directed by: Veronica Kedar Starring: Sivan Levy & Veronica Kedar 
If you’re looking for a queer film unlike anything else on this list, I’d reccomend Joe + Belle – it’s a whimsically dark comedy that follows two girls on the run after they accidentally murder someone. There are obvious comparisons to Thelma and Louise, and the film feels streetwise, funny and unafraid to be itself. The setting of Israel during the Qassam rocket attacks is also a unique element that sets this film apart and adds another question of ‘why? why not?’ to this quirky indie.

3. Blush (2015)
Written and directed by:
Michal Vinik Starring: Sivan Noam Shimon & Jade Sakori
Blush is a film which simply felt like I’d enjoy it from the worst trailer. It’s a fascinating watch as – while I don’t know how accurate – it deals with living and being LGBTQA+ in contemporary Israel. The main characters are both likeable but still realistically flawed and it doesn’t shy away from being honest about the coming out process. The love story itself is endearing and fresh – despite it being a typical ‘new girl arrives’ narrative, and while it doesn’t have a sickly sweet ending I appreciated the realism and enjoyed the film nonetheless. You can also very clearly feel that the writer-director is a queer women, and even better that both the leads are gay women (neither of who are industry actors). Jade Sakori especially does a fantastic job portraying Dana, making her a character who you immediately like (and can easily understand why the protagonist falls for her) – even through her less redeeming qualities she is charismatic and full of life. Blush was inexplicably different to my expectations, but was a wonderful watch. It’s really a film that feels youthful, honest and vibrant.

Japan

1. The Schoolgirl Complex (2013)
Written by: Shin Adachi Directed by: Yûichi Onuma Starring: Aoi Morikawa & Mugi Kadowaki
Despite its title and poster, The Schoolgirl Complex explores taboo subjects like female sexuality and homosexuality in a sensitive and well-crafted way. It’s a subtle and gentle coming-of-age tale set in an all girls school, but manages to avoid all the clichès you expect. While the plot is a simple student-loves-friend story, the fact it doesn’t try to overcomplicate really benefits The Schoolgirl Complex as it allows you to really exist with the characters and go into more depth learning about the emotions that come with exploring sexuality, over the physical experiences that many queer films focus on.

Others include: Finding the Adolescence (Kuramoto, 2014), Kakera (Andô, 2009), Love My Life (Kawano, 2006), The Cherry Orchard (Nakahara, 1990)

Ukraine

1. Summer Lover (2008) 
Written and directed by: Robert Crombie Starring: Avalon Barrie & Lyudmila Shiryaeva 
Also known as Sappho – the title I originally watched it under – is a film I watched many years ago before I even realised I was gay, and even then I was enraptured. While it isn’t an incredible film, it is slightly mesmerising and pulls you in without you realising. The film follows newlyweds on their honeymoon where the wife is inexplicably drawn to another woman (typical, right?) but the twist is that the attempt at polyamory which follows. The film does trip at this hurdle, which unfortunately is its main story arc, and seems to slightly lose its way at the end, but overall it’s a unique take on Sappho’s poetry and queer films.

Venezuela

1. Liz in September (2014) 
Written and directed by: Fina Torres Starring: Patricia Velasquez & Mimi Lazo
Liz in September  is beautifully made, with a lovely soundtrack and stunning locations – however it is slightly let down by the tropes it employs and its reasoning for certain plot points which feel unanchored, but it still manages to be a good watch despite this. It’s the kind of film that if these weren’t stereotypes that are used so often, they wouldn’t bother you in this particular film. Be warned of the sad ending, but worth a watch if you’ve got ninety minutes to spare or just fancy some island paradise goodness.

Hong Kong

1. Butterfly (2004)
Written and directed by:
Yan Yan Mak Starring: Josie Ho, Yuan Tian & Stephanie Che
Butterfly is a unique queer film as it doesn’t follow many of the usual storylines, but instead delves into the protagonist’s memories of a teenage encounter with another woman. The film employs parallel storylines which are kept tightly together, but not rushed, through its editing and the underlying political messages are a brave move. The characters are diverse and each provide a different representation of self perception and acceptance. Overall, the production has a youthful, indie film feel and supports the story well. 

Others include: All About Love (Hui, 2010)

I hope you’ve all had a fantastic Pride Month and that this post has given you some new films to watch – part two will be coming soon-ish, featuring films from Italy, Lithuania, Korea, Sweden, Finland, Iran, India, Taiwan, South Africa and Argentia. So stay tuned!

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