hrj: (doll)

Well, I saw it. Lots of fabulous effects, especially in creating the creatures. But also lots of unanalyzed tropes that felt worse than lazy. The ditzy blonde with the heart of gold. The callously predatory mentor of a teenage boy where the relationship involved enough physical affection to cross the line (for me) into evoking pedophilia. The message that you can be an endearingly dorky guy and still be a hero, but if you're a tormented broken outsider, you have to die. And for a story that engages with themes about prejudice and persecution, there's a startling lack of addressing racial issues in 1920s New York, whether it's the complete glossing over of the contradictions of having a black MACUSA president who would face dual prejudices in "nomaj" society, or the substitution of non-human background characters for what would be expected to be black roles in the nightclub scenes.

It isn't awful...it's just...not very self-aware. But we sort of knew it was going to be like that, didn't we?

hrj: (doll)

Lauri asked me to save this movie to see with her in NYC, which wasn't hard given the distractions of the last couple weeks. (My book release. Of course I'm talking about my book release.)

Arrival tells the story of twelve vast and mysterious UFOs arriving in scattered locations across the earth, the beginnings of attempts to communicate with the inhabitants, and the impending political disaster as those communications go semantically awry in entirely predictable ways. The central character is linguist Dr. Louise Banks, with hard-science colleage Ian Donnelly as her foil. The central characters are completed by an army colonel who is overseeing the U.S. contact mission...and, I suppose, by the two aliens that Banks interacts with.

There are a lot of pluses in this movie. As a linguist myself, I have to say that they did a good portayal of the nature and process of linguistic acquisition unmediated by a common third language. At least in the flavor, though of course the timeline was vastly sped up from even what a computer-assisted process could manage. There was also a certain glossing over of the extreme luck that human and alien communication both operated on aural and visual channels rather than any of the less filmable possibilities.

The aliens were satisfyingly alien, both in concept and execution. Banks's frustration in trying to explain to the military the difficulting in what they expected her to produce in a single session was quite realistic both in its flavor and particulars. ("What is your purpose here on Earth?" Do you have any idea how freaking complicated and subjective an utterance that is?) I was a bit surprised, given that visual communication was a major tool, that more wasn't done with pictorial representation in order to  build vocabulary. (This is where the unrealistic time-compression comes in. Very hard to develop a grasp of abstract concepts without building on concrete ones.) Anyway, enough about the linguistics.

The climax relies on an interesting (and very SFF-nal) twist on the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. One might say the strongest of strong S-W interpretations. To say more would be a spoiler. That twist ties in the running subplot involving Banks's memories of her daughter who dies young of some unspecified condition (the visuals suggest cancer) and of the related break-up of her marriage.

And here comes my one philosophical gripe with the movie (because the linguistic gripes are more logistical than philosophical). Even though we get a very central female protagonist, her story is framed in terms of family, motherhood, and emotional relationships. And we get the classic gendered contrast between the female humanities expert and the male hard-science expert. Furthermore, although there's a good gender balance in the tertiary characters (random crowd scenes, people on tv screens) and although the scenes between Banks and her daughter are key to the movie (though perhaps the sole basis for passing the Bechdel-Wallace test), there's a noticable lack of women among the crowd of secondary figures involved in the contact encampment. One can no longer use the military nature of that context as an excuse for the omission of women. Skimming through the imdb.com cast listings, of the twelve roles listed with personal names (rather than occupations or functions), only Banks and her daughter are female. So: good job on having a female protagonist in an only-tangentially-relationship-centered movie. But Arrival is still rather marginal in terms of supporting and normalizing women's roles in movies and in expanding beyond what are still highly gendered dramatic functions.

Beyond that gripe, I really enjoyed the movie and will be mulling over the plot implications of the conclusion. It's unfortunate that I can't talk about those implications without entirely spoiling it for those who haven't seen it yet. So go see it, and then we can talk.

hrj: (doll)

I should have known better. I mean, I know that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is that abusive partner who always comes back promising that this time it will be better. And you hold out. You promise yourself not to get taken again. But you think, maybe it will be different this time. You think, this is a different type of story. Dr. Strange wasn't one of those punch-your-way-out superheros. He was intellectual. Philosophical. He used magic, not his fists. And think of the effects! It'll be different this time. (And, I confess, I'm not entirely immune to the fey, cerebral attractions of Benedict Cumberbatch.)

And I got suckered in one more time.

Whatever a Dr. Strange movie could have been, it got turned into a cookie-cutter punch-em-up extended fight scene. The magic effects are cool, to be sure. And I suppose I should give them props for giving the viewer a serious "reality turned inside out" experience that could only be hinted at on the page of a comic. If I had attempted to watch it in 3D, I'm quite certain I would have lost my cookies. It was visually and conceptually stunning but the relentless assault on my equilibrium was just...look, enough already. It isn't fun any more.

The story line is a combination of stock origin story--brilliant, arrogant Entitled White Guy suffers a take-down due to his own idiocy and drives every one around him crazy with his self-pity and refusal to accept the consequences of his own actions, until he takes himself off to the ends of the earth to demand help from Magical Oriental Mystics--plus the standard plot "Chosen One becomes instantly and amazingly better at this than everyone else who's been working hard for a long time and turns out to be the only person who can Save The World."

You know, the more I think about it, the more I dislike this movie.

Minuses: Immense amounts of gratuitous physical violence. Visual effects designed to take you past vertigo and out the other side. Graphic medical squickiness. (In fact, content warning for that.) Gratuitous Orientalism. Complete and utter failure of the Bechdel-Wallace Test. I think there are only two female speaking parts in the whole movie: the Long-Suffering Loyal Girlfriend Who Gets Shat On By Self-Pitying Whiny Guy But Jumps When He Snaps His Fingers For Help and the Tilda Swinton role that wasn't female in the original comic: Mystical Teacher. (Except instead of Mystical Oriental Teacher, she gets to be Mystical Celtic Teacher. Yes, they said the C word.) There is no chance for the two female characters to have a conversation not about Whiny Guy because they never in fact talk to each other at all. Oh, a good smattering of the redshirt characters on both sides are female, so that's something. But none of the named, speaking characters who interact with Whiny Guy.

Pluses: Um...cool cloak? Nice magic effects? Props to David J. Peterson as linguistics consultant so the script didn't include anything truly silly with regard to ancient manuscripts and mysic spells. (OK, I'm biased. Personal connection.) I'd give a plus for making The Ancient One female except for the whole whitewashing aspect which kind of zeros it out.

Going back to my I'm-So-Over-Marvel cave.

hrj: (Alpennia w text)

Bella Distributing is holding a "Scary Good Paperback Sales" lasting through this whole weekend. Check it out for some stupendous deals on lesbian genre fiction--including Daughter of Mystery and The Mystic Marriage! If you've been waiting for a great deal to get caught up with the series in paperback in time for the release of Mother of Souls, it won't get any better than this. (If you want a chance to get caught up in e-book...well, you never know.)


And now, on to the movie review.

* * *

This is a series of reviews of lesbian-themed movies originally inspired by a request for recommendations of "good movies involving lesbian romances that don't end up with the protagonists deeply unhappy, dead, or both." To this set of criteria I’ve added the question, “Is the story primarily about coming out?” This set of index questions can involve some spoilers, but I will usually only hide them for new releases.

Many of these movies are not currently in print. I'll link each to their imdb.com entry for reference. But for those currently available, Wolfe Video [https://www.wolfevideo.com] is the go-to distributor for lgbt movies.

I'm going to confess that I've been putting off watching Imagine Me and You (2005) for quite some time because I was afraid of getting punched in the face. Somehow the "meet-cute" premise of a bride falling for the (female) florist at her wedding, combined with the cover image of two m/f couples with the women surreptitiously holding hands behind the men's backs, didn't feel very promising for a f/f happy ending. I expected a lot of angst, a traumatic coming out, and probably the women being tragically separated due to one or the other sacrificing her own happiness for the sake of the other. And despite several people assuring me (in a non-spoilery way) that it wasn't like that, I think there was a gap of a couple years between when I bought this DVD and when I finally watched it.

It wasn't like that.

There was a certain amount of angst--but only as much as one would expect when a newlywed discovers that, although she married her best friend, she hadn't married the love of her life. There was a fair amount of comedic confusion around coming out, but not in the "I'm revealing a secret" sense but more in the "um...why have you assumed I'm heterosexual?" sense. The second man in the cover poster--the groom's best man--starts out as a lecherous sexist boor, but is only moderately annoyingly persistant once he's been clued in to the sexual preference of the woman he's been set up with. Because, you see, the bride's initial reflex to feeling an instand emotional connection with the florist is to invite her over for dinner and then try to set her up with her husband's best friend.

What makes the biggest difference between my expectations (fears) and the movie is that it's set in the 21st century, when sexual preference is considered by the characters of no more moment (and equivalent comedic potential) to being vegetarian or some such. So the angst is all about respecting commitments versus following your heart and admitting to someone you care deeply about that you've made a dreadful mistake. And, in the way of the best romantic comedies, in the end, following your heart leads to a happy ending for everyone.

Evaluation: No one dies. No one recants. Everyone ends up happy (though some teeter on the edge of happy and bewilderment). The bride goes through coming out, but it's not the major focus and isn't traumatic. Once she realizes the nature of her feelings for the florist, the question is how to balance the imperative of True Love with having just made vows to someone else. And her friends and family don't react with shock and horror, only confusion concern.

So if you, too, have worried about whether this movie will punch you in the face, I'll echo what I was told and didn't entirely believe: It doesn't.

hrj: (doll)

OK, let's cut to the chase. GO SEE THIS MOVIE!!!

Phiona Mutesi lives in a Uganda slum, working hard to help her single mother provide for the family. Robert Katende is working for a church youth sports program, with a chess club on the side. When Phiona encounters the chess club she struggles to balance her fascination and love for the challenge with family responsibilities--a struggle that intensifies as her brilliant talent for the game develops. Katende fights for the chance for his best proteges to compete at ever-increasing levels.

There's always a worry when Hollywood--and especially DIsney--presents a story like this of triumph over adversity that the story will be shaped and moulded to fit conventional narratives. My perception (knowing only the story presented in the film) is that the temptation was avoided in this case. I love how Phiona's story is told from within her community and culture, not whitewashing anything (either in a literal or figurative sense) but also not presenting it though a judgmental filter. A story like this is typically presented as a parable of the power of individual talent to self-rescue from a disadvantaged origin, but as Phiona advances through her achievement, she embraces and is embraced by her community, both her neighbors in Katwe and her countrymen of Uganda. She becomes a local heroine, not a success-and-escape story.

All the major characters have their own story arcs, facing choices to make about self versus community, facing setbacks and tragedies and continuing on because that's all there is to do. And all of them struggle with flaws and fears and temptations.

At the end of the movie, even more than the symbol of Phiona's achivement (not a big spoiler, since it fits the archetypal narrative in some ways), what I loved was the credit sequence when that principal actors were joined on screen by the real-life person they were playing. This is almost a "real time" production; the book that inspired the movie was published in 2012 hard on the heels of Phiona's national championship and the movie began production in the same year.

If you want to see an inspiring success story outside of the same-old same-old of western white culture, that honors and embraces the people and culture it portrays with an unflinching gaze, make sure you see Queen of Katwe before it disappears from the fairly limited distribution it's enjoying. And if this movie doesn't win at least one Oscar there is no justice.

hrj: (doll)

When I first saw a trailer for Florence Foster Jenkins, my immediate thought was, “Oh crap!” followed by an immediate 180 when I saw that the project was headed by Meryl Streep. Streep is one of the few people I would trust for sympathetic handling of this superficially ridiculous biography. If that’s an odd beginning for a movie review, let me jump to the conclusion and say that as the credits rolled I was crying and giving a standing ovation. (Not even so much for the movie as for the character.)

But this is a hard story to analyze. I’m still not certain whether it’s the story of the importance of art, of the triumph of the human spirit in the face of immense odds, and of the power of love and compassion, or whether it’s a story of the fine line between support and enabling, of the blunt force of wealth and privilege, and of the endless ability of people to live lies for their own benefit. I think the genius of the movie is that it’s all of those things.

Florence Foster Jenkins was an heiress and socialite (1868-1944)  who had what was probably an adequate musical talent (although family connections were probably more important than talent when she gave a piano recital at the White House as a child). When disability left her unable to play (Wikipedia says an injury, the movie more symbolically attributes it to the effects of the syphilis that was the only lasting legacy of her brief marriage to Mr. Jenkins) and when a sizable inheritance gave her the means, she turned her interest to singing and to the production of amateur theatricals among New York City’s wealthy elite. She was lauded for her genuine support for the performing arts, and counted many prominent musicians among her friends. At the same time, her insistence on taking the stage for her own vocal performance, combined with her complete lack of skills in pitch, rhythm, enunciation, and vocal power must have strained the limits of friendship and the ability of those friends to dissemble. Admission to her performances was tightly controlled, and a combination of genuine affection and respect for her social position (and generous patronage) allowed Jenkins to remain in ignorance of her own flaws (though it’s still debated exactly how much self-delusion was involved).

The movie revolves around the lead-up to her performance at age 76 at Carnegie Hall—a venue where she no longer controlled access and which resulted in a deluge of open mockery in the media. Five days later, she suffered a heart attack that would prove fatal.

Such are the bare facts. In the remainder of this review, I’ll be talking about the events and relationships as portrayed in the movie, without concerning myself with potential dramatic divergences from history.

The movie features her relationship with actor St. Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant)—nominally her manager, also her long-term “gentleman companion”—and with the hired pianist Cosmé McMoon who found a gravy-train in accommodating both her whims and her singing deficiencies. What makes this a tragic and heartwarming story is the depiction of how both men, though clearly anchored solidly by financial benefit, are motivated by affection to forge a balance between Jenkins’ dreams and their desire to protect her from ridicule and disappointment. Jenkins has occasional moments of self-doubt, masked as a sort of fishing for compliments, but for the most part simply bulls her way forward, secure in the belief in her own abilities.

For supporting characters (and characterizations) I also want to give a shout-out to Nina Arianda as Agnes Stark, the blonde eye-candy trophy wife (with low-class manners) of one of Jenkins’ circle who at first encounter with one of Jenkins’ performances has to be extracted, giggling hysterically, but when later attending Jenkins’ public recital admonishes the laughing audience to shut up and listen. “This lady is singing her heart out!” [paraphrased] In this, she stands in for the movie viewer who can’t help but both wince and cheer at the same time.

The storyline in the movie clearly sets up the Carnegie Hall performance as the last finale for Jenkins, with Bayfield and McMoon knowing that her health is on its last legs, wanting to help her to her heart’s desire, then trying vainly to shield her from the adverse publicity which is depicted (and perhaps rightly so) as leading directly to her death (in combination with the exhaustion of the performance).

So. Florence Foster Jenkins: icon of those striving against all odds and common sense for their heart’s desire, or walking advertisement for the Dunning-Kruger effect? All I know is that I cried at the end.

My primary blog has moved, but feel free to comment in either place.

hrj: (doll)

I went to see this sequel to Pixar's Finding Nemo largely because, well, Ellen DeGeneres plus a rumor that there was a lesbian couple somewhere in it. OK, and I have a certain local pride in Pixar, despite their usual tendency to make boy-centered films. (See my review of Up for a discussion.)


I confess that, in the previous movie, I found the character of Dory annoying. Scatter-brained, easily distractible, hard to keep on track. And I say this with some discomfort because a number of people very dear to me have those characteristics and, yes, they do drive me crazy. But Finding Dory turns the story around, and rather than Dory being the funny side-kick, now she's the protagonist. The basic plot is: at some time previous to the earlier movie, Dory got separated from her parents. She no longer remembers how or why, or has any idea where they are. All she remembers is that she'd like to find them again some day. And then she starts getting flashes of memory...


Similarly to Finding Nemo, this is a quest story with lots of helpful side-kicks, adventures, peril, and improbable success. What gives both movies a lot of heart is the underlying theme that you can't protect your "different" children from the big, bad, world. What you need to do is give them the personally tailored skills to succeed on their own. Nemo's over-protective single dad wouldn't let him learn to cope with his malformed fin. Dory's parents, in contrast (as we eventually come to realize), did a very successful job of beginning to teach her practical coping skills, and giving her a supportive environment for moving toward independence. But at the beginning of the movie, all she remembers (other than the matra, "I have poor short-term memory") is that it must have been her fault for losing her parents.


The superficial story is the usual roller-coaster ride of improbable slap-stick adventures. The animation is gorgeous, of course. There were times when Pixar seemed to have leapt nimbly across the Uncanny Valley and produced backgrounds that felt photo-realistic. (I felt this even more so with the short that preceded the main feature, following the adventures of a sandpiper chick learning to interact with surf.)


As for the rumored lesbian couple: knowing that they were supposed to be there somewhere in the background, I think I noticed them flash by during an acquarium crowd scene. But if you didn't know they were supposed to be there, I don't see how you would realize it. Not exactly what I'd consider representation in a practical sense.


I'd be very interested to know what viewers who are themselves non-neurotypical think about Finding Dory and how the character is presented. My impression was that there was very little "making a point" going on, and that Dory was a fun, realistic, loveable, and sympathetic character. Not a clown being presented for other people's amusement. But, as I noted above, I'm not viewing the character from inside, so I may not be the best judge.

hrj: (doll)
Yeah, ok, lots of spoilers in this review because I WANT TO WARN EVERYONE NOT TO SEE THIS FUCKING MOVIE!!!!! This is the platonic ideal of the Tragic Lesbian Boarding School Story.

* * *

This is a series of reviews of lesbian-themed movies originally inspired by a request for recommendations of "good movies involving lesbian romances that don't end up with the protagonists deeply unhappy, dead, or both." To this set of criteria I’ve added the question, “Is the story primarily about coming out?” This set of index questions can involve some spoilers, but I will usually only hide them for new releases.

Many of these movies are not currently in print. I'll link each to their imdb.com entry for reference. But for those currently available, Wolfe Video [https://www.wolfevideo.com] is the go-to distributor for lgbt movies.

* * *

Lost and Delerious (2001) is basically Dead Poet’s Society with girls. Except with the Bury Your Gays trope more explicitly gay. There's also a strong Psycho Lesbian trope, in that a thwarted lesbian relationship drives one character to increasingly bizarre and violent behavior and suicide. Hey, I told you there would be massive spoilers. Don't blame me if you're still reading.

This movie belongs to the genre of hot-house boarding school stories, in which same-sex relationships bloom and are cut off well before their prime. Mary, the new girl at an upper-crust all-girls boarding school ends up rooming with two girls, Tori and Paulie, who are involved in a hot-and-heavy relationship. All three have problematic relationships with mothers: Paulie’s birth mother gave her up for adoption and she is currently trying to track her down and contact her. (When she eventually succeeds in locating her, the woman refuses to allow contact.) Mary’s mother died three years ago and she feels she’s being sent to school to make room for her stepmother. Tori’s mother is trying to make her over into her own image as a socialite. A running subplot involves two of the school's teachers who are widely rumored to be lovers.

While Mary figures out she’s ok with pretending not to notice the sex going on in the next bed over, the balance is upset when Tori’s sister barges in one morning when the lovers are still naked in bed together. Tori freaks out about the potential for being outed and throws Paulie under the bus, claiming she was the sexual agressor and that she (Tori) is perfectly straight. To support this, Tori takes on a program of public heterosexuality, sneaking out to date and have sex with a random boy, selected due to a chance meeting. When Mary chooses to be supportive of Paulie, she takes the risk of being labelled a lesbian herself.

There’s a subplot where Paulie finds an injured Harris Hawk and secretly rehabilitates it in the woods. (I will now forego discussing the logistics of bird of prey rehabilitation as the event is clearly meant to be Deeply Symbolic and practicality need not intervene.) Paulie is the hawk, a fierce wounded creature. She makes bold symbolic gestures, including a chivalric declaration of love in the library while wearing her fencing gear and carrying an epee.

But both the girls are terrified to name their sexuality. Relevant quote, “I’m not a lesbian! I’m just Paulie in love with Tori and Tori’s in love with me.” In a late night encounter, Tori confesses she’ll never love anyone but Paulie but that they can never be together.

Paulie has always played the role of Bad Girl, which initially masks her acting out of her emotional crisis. As in Dead Poet’s Society, poetry and Shakespeare and drama are the medium through which strong emotions are expressed within this shrine of classical learning. This framing drives Paulie to challenge Tori’s boyfriend to a literal duel on the night of the big school formal (at which all the parents are present) and to cut in when Tori is dancing with her father, threatening a confrontation where she declares her love. Tori, terrified, rejects her. Mary is having her own issues, as her father fails to show up for the dance and Paulie taunts her into confessing that she hates her father, using Lady Macbeth’s “Unsex me” speech, and then recruits Mary as her second for the duel.

They meet the boys in the woods with swords, and the duel ensues, but Paulie’s using an unblunted sword and actually stabs her rival in the leg. The scene cuts to Mary running across the field where all the students and teachers are gathered in a picnic to find Tori, and we see the hawk flying up, called to Paulie where she stands on the rooftop of the school. We see Paulie begin to fall, then see the hawk flying away, and we see all the girls staring up at the roof in horror. But Mary, our viewpoint protagonist, is ok, because now we get a voiceover about the lesson she learned from the hawk and how now she’ll always remember her dead mother’s face.

This version of Lesbian Tragedy (the plot that Emma Donoghue classifies as “Rivals”) always marks out the butch character for death while allowing the femme character to recant and be redeemed. At the beginning of the movie, I don’t recall there being an obvious butch/femme distinction between the Paulie and Tori. But as the emotional crisis progresses, Paulie’s presentation becomes more and more masculinized, culminating in her wearing a suit at the school dance, envisioning herself as Tori’s knight, and more explicitly with the “Unsex me” speech. Tori drags herself by force into a normative female role by her pursuit of a heterosexual sexual experience. So rather than their gender perfomances locking them into the fates of their respective roles, once those fates were set in motion, the gendered roles claimed and assimilated them.

Given the context of the inspiration for this review series, this is definitely a Do Not Recommend. We hit all the bullet-points: Tori recanted, Paulie came out and died, everyone is unhappy. This is the sort of movie that could convince an entire generation of young lesbians that they are doomed. The fact that movies like this are still being made in the 21st century is a crime.
hrj: (doll)
This is a series of reviews of lesbian-themed movies originally inspired by a request for recommendations of "good movies involving lesbian romances that don't end up with the protagonists deeply unhappy, dead, or both." To this set of criteria I’ve added the question, “Is the story primarily about coming out?” This set of index questions can involve some spoilers, but I will usually only hide them for new releases.

Many of these movies are not currently in print. I'll link each to their imdb.com entry for reference. But for those currently available, Wolfe Video [https://www.wolfevideo.com] is the go-to distributor for lgbt movies.

* * *

The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister is a BBC costume drama (with all the production values and gorgeous location work that usually entails) based on the diaries of a wealthy early 19th century Yorkshire woman who--at least in the privacy of her diaries and her bedroom--was an open and self-aware lesbian. This movie necessarily condenses the details of her life down to a manageable hour and a half. In doing so it retains the major themes of her experience, but strips out the agonizing and tedious years of confusion, depression, and uncertainty that are laid out in the diaries themselves.

The movie opens on an idyllic picnic on the moors, where Anne frolics with her two closest friends: Marianne, with whom she is deeply and passionately in love, and Tib, who is more in the way of a fuck-buddy. Anne’s fantasies of eventually sharing her home with Marianne (currently made awkward by the fact that she shares the ancestral manor with her unmarried sibling aunt and uncle) begin to crack that evening when Marianne’s engagement to a rich older man is announced.

We see the slow, agonizing fracturing of their relationship as Anne clings to the hope of eventually realizing her dreams with a widowed Marianne, while Marianne tries to eat her cake and have it too, misleading Anne about the steadfastness of her feelings. But braided among this are Anne’s continued sexual relationship with Tib, Anne’s flirtation with an innocent and bewildered young woman she meets at church, and Anne’s personal and professional conflicts with another local landowner over developing coalmines on their properties, which leads him to begin slandering her over her sexuality. (Well, ok, I guess it’s not actually slander because the core of what he says is true.)

Around about the time that the final fracture with Marianne occurs, Anne has befriended another neighbor (Ann Walker), an unmarried young woman who recently inherited her own family estate and who shares her interest in developing their coal resources. This professional friendship develops into romance when the other woman is confronted with accusations of how her friendship with Anne Lister is being interpreted and decides to make the rumors into reality. The movie closes with a “what happened to them all” summary, noting that Marianne’s husband outlived Anne Lister, who died of a fever while on holiday with her new love in the Caucasus mountains.

So how does this measure up on the four key questions? When you’re dealing with a biopic that deliberately follow people to note how and when they died, I don’t think that counts as a movie-death. So no death, certainly not as “punishment” for being queer. Marianne recants, but she’s the only one who does. Anne spends a fair amount of the movie unhappy but ends up happy, which I think is what counts. Of the various woman-loving-women in the film, Ann Walker is the only one we see having a coming-out experience, and it isn’t a major focus of the plot. So all in all, I’d say this movie comes up a plus on all four categories.
hrj: (doll)
I’m re-posting (sometimes in expanded form) a series of reviews of lesbian-themed movies that I originally drew up in answer to a request for recommendations of "good movies involving lesbian romances that don't end up with the protagonists deeply unhappy, dead, or both." To this set of criteria I’ve added the question, “Is the story primarily about coming out?” This set of index questions will necessarily involve some spoilers, but since I'm not reviewing any current releases, I think the statute of limitations has expired.

Many of these items are not currently in print. I'll link each to their imdb.com entry for reference. But for those currently available, Wolfe Video is the go-to distributor for lgbt movies.

This concludes this set of “re-published” reviews. I still have a long list of lesbian-themed movies on video to work my way through. Most often, when I watch videos, it’s while I’m doing some other activity and I want background entertainment. So I need to carve out some pure viewing time to continue this series.

* * *

Portrait of a Marriage (1990) Mini-series biopic about the lives and loves of post-WWI English politician Harold Nicolson, his wife the famous Vita Sackville-West, and her lover the manipulative and needy Violet Keppel. Nicolson and Sackville-West were both bisexual and had what would now be considered an open marriage. Portrayals like this point out how the difference between “open marriage” and “series of sordid little affairs” is often entirely in how society frames the events. In an age where neither open marriages nor bisexuality were socially acceptable, it should come as no surprise that the story Does Not End Happily.

Nobody is "punished by death" but there's a strong over-arching theme that same-sex relationships are doomed to unhappiness and failure, by nature of the pressures around them. Not really a coming-out story, as such. I don’t recall at this point whether there was anything that could be considered recanting. (In biographies of this sort, there’s often a desire to “redeem” the central figure by interpreting a continuing primary relationship as indicating a desire to recant.)
hrj: (doll)
I’m reviewing these two movies on the same day largely through the coincidence of timing. But there are some interesting aspects to compare/contrast other than the simple fact that both are costume flicks that had very limited distribution.

I’d originally meant to see A Little Chaos in the theater with [livejournal.com profile] thread_walker but the night we went, the projector for that film was malfunctioning and we ended up seeing Jurassic World instead, and then it was gone from the theaters. But I recently picked it up on DVD (in a fit of Alan Rickman mourning -- he plays King Louis XIV).

A Little Chaos tells a highly fictionalized story of the design and construction of the gardens at Versailles under King Louis XIV, centering on a woman chosen to design and oversee one particular element of the gardens. The storyline depicts the protagonist, Sabine, as being chosen for the work by the royal gardener Andre LeNotre (who is a solidly historic figure) both despite and because of her imaginative and informal designs. In addition to the challenges of the work, of satisfying her royal patron, of dealing with jealous and sexist colleagues, and of a slow-growing romance between her and LeNotre, there are constant hints of some sort of tragic past involving her late husband and young daughter.

The story is very atmospheric, but never quite came together for me. It seemed filled with predictable tropes: the encounter with the king whom she doesn’t recognize and thus interacts with as an equal, much to his amusement; the royal gardener’s jealous-while-unfaithful wife who deliberately sabotages the landscaping project; the long workaholic hours as expiation for some past failure that is revealed to us at the emotional climax. But all in all it felt like an excuse for lovely scenery and fancy dress without any clear message or meaning. Given the casting (Kate Winslet, Alan Rickman, Stanley Tucci, a lovely cameo by Jennifer Ehle as Madame de Montespan) one feels it could have been something more.

I was disappointed in the costuming. There was an adequate nod to the general silhouette and style, but the fabric choices all felt off, the details were completely off the mark, and Sabine’s look is relentlessly “romantic disarray”.

But among all of this weak tea, there was one scene that made me sit up and give a deep sigh of appreciation. In the midst of various crises over whether Sabine will be allowed to finish her project or not, she is summoned to the court at Fontainebleu. Before being taken into the king’s presence, she is swept away by the king’s mistress (the Marquise de Montespan) to a private salon with various ladies of the court. Sabine is portrayed as solidly hard-working middle class and deeply uncomfortable with this setting. At first, the ladies start in with light banter about beauty and appearances, discussing how her work hasn’t coarsened her skin, and commenting on the relative beauty of their breasts (including a bit of show and tell). Then as they begin quizzing her on her personal history and ask about children, Sabine gets a striken look (I think this is the first point when we’re told that her daughter is dead) and the ladies all begin sharing information about the children they’ve lost, and to what, and how they aren’t allowed to talk about them at court because the king doesn’t want to hear about death. And suddenly all differences of rank and station evaporate and it’s a room full of mothers, equal in their sorrow. Of all the things the movie tried to do, that was the one that worked for me. It was a portrayal of a world of women finding common ground in the face of lives that revolve around, and are always in relation to, the powerful men in their lives.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is an entirely different sort of movie. Once again, I’d been planning to see it with [livejournal.com profile] thread_walker (who had already seen it once, and whose recommendation was what made me willing to give it a try) but the very night we had scheduled was when it disappeared from almost all the theaters where it had been showing. So we ended up going back to my place to watch the DVD of A Little Chaos instead and I drove out to Antioch by myself a couple days later to catch PPZ before it evaporated entirely.

I picked up the book by this title back when it first came out. I was amused by the concept (this was before that whole genre quickly became overdone) and on a bit of an Austen-retellings kick. I was...unimpressed. It struck me as a one-joke concept that was all played out within the first chapter. Like many Austen pastiches, the canon material and additions felt awkwardly pasted together.

A bit later, there was a video trailer for the book on YouTube that gave me the same impression: amusing conceit, but too thin for a whole story. (The advantage in this case being that the trailer was about the right length for the available concept.)

So I hadn’t actually been interested in seeing the movie, as well as having been almost unaware of its existence, until [livejournal.com profile] thread_walker mentioned having enjoyed it enough to be willing to see it again with me. Well, that’s enough of a recommendation for a try. Surprisingly enough, I found it charmingly delightful, although one must append “for what it is” to amost every statement I make here.

It is--unashamedly--a violent, action packed, zombie-killing movie. But the over-arching zombie plot actually has coherence and internal consistency, as well as being integrated surprisingly well with the Pride and Prejudice framing story. The use of verbatim dialogue from the Austen novel, rather than feeling lazy and derivative, played as an enormous in-joke with the audience. (There were also a lot of deliberate call-outs to the Firth/Ehle miniseries, including a completely gratuitous “swimming Darcy” scene.)

The ways in which the canonical characters, relationships, and events were adapted to the zombie plot worked fairly smoothly, even when completely illogical (for example, retaining the notion of the girls’ economic dependence on achieving good marriages while simultaneously training them to be kick-ass anti-zombie martial artists as an ordinary "accomplishment" expected of young women). I was particularly delighted with the conversion of Lady Catherine de Bourgh from overbearing bore into the most famed zombie-fighter in England, complete with form-fitting leather breeches and eyepatch.

But I have to say, two things made the difference for me in enjoying the movie far more than I’d expected. The lesser of these is that the production values were stunning. Excellent sets and setting, impressive (if far from historically accurate) costuming, and the feel of a lived-in world. The more important feature was how solidly feminist a story it was, in terms of the characters’ relationships with each other (both retained from Austen, and not), and in the agency the characters were given, without only turning the female characters into generic ass-kicking action-heroines. But more than that, the film regularly gave us a female gaze--not exclusively, but I’d say more often than a male one. It truly felt like the movie was for female viewers, as opposed to simply allowing them to come too.

And that’s where the two movies intersect for me: with all their differences and their individual flaws, they both have solid moments of respecting and catering to me as a female viewer.
hrj: (doll)
Time to pop some more DVDs in the player! I only have one more pre-written review in this series after this. (And I'm currently getting to the less happy items in my previous set, since I started by focusing on the happier ones.)

I’m re-posting (sometimes in expanded form) a series of reviews of lesbian-themed movies that I originally drew up in answer to a request for recommendations of "good movies involving lesbian romances that don't end up with the protagonists deeply unhappy, dead, or both." To this set of criteria I’ve added the question, “Is the story primarily about coming out?” This set of index questions will necessarily involve some spoilers, but since I'm not reviewing any current releases, I think the statute of limitations has expired.

Many of these items are not currently in print. I'll link each to their imdb.com entry for reference. But for those currently available, Wolfe Video is the go-to distributor for lgbt movies.

* * *

Aimée & Jaguar (1998) Based on a true story set in WWII, Lilly, the wife of a German soldier falls in love with Felice, a member of the Jewish underground. Being biography rather than fiction, the story has the expected tragic outcome when Felice declines to flee Germany in order to remain with Lilly. (It's small compensation that Felice was doomed for being Jewish rather than being a lesbian.) So, no happily-ever-after, one of them dies, and there's a fair amount of coming-out story. Not recommended for comfort-viewing but an interesting period piece.
hrj: (doll)
This will be the last of my year-end summary posts. Falling on Friday, as it does, I thought I'd sum up all the reviews I've posted in 2015.

Scheduling one day a week to do reviews has worked out fairly well - at least as long as I have a backlog of the lesbian movie reviews to fill in around the new material. This isn't a list of absolutely everything I read or watched this year. There were some book re-reads that I didn't blog, and I'm very irregular in reviewing short fiction. I also skipped a few new movies if they didn't grab me enough (or, in the case of the new Star Wars movie, because everyone's freaking out about spoilers, so I just did my discussion in some carefully labeled online discussion spaces). You could also count my discussion of podcasts and web magazines as reviews of a sort, but I haven't included them here. I've organized things by type of media and then somewhat thematically in the larger categories.

Books: Non-fiction
I don't generally do full reviews of non-fiction (other than the entire Lesbian Historic Motif Project being extensive reviews).

Margaret of Parma: A Life by Charlie R. Steen

Books: Fantasy
Five of these thirteen are 2015 publications, all are by female authors, most are fantasy as opposed to science fiction (only the Itäranta falls more in SF). Only two are by non-caucasian writers (although they're both in the 2015 publications, making 40% for that category).

Random by Alma Alexander
Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear
Passion Play by Beth Bernobich
Queen's Hunt by Beth Bernobich
The Ghost Dragon's Daughter by Beth Bernobich novelette?
Penric's Demon by Lois McMaster Bujold novella
The Blazing World by Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle audio
The Golden City by J. Kathleen Cheney
Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho
The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard
Cold Magic by Kate Elliott
Memory of Water by Emmi Itäranta
The Privilege of the Sword by Ellen Kushner also my pre-review

Books: Lesbian
Most of these are historical romance, with the Douglas being the only fantasy entry. (Although I could have double-entered Karen Memory here for lesbian fantasy.) Believe me, I would love to read more books in the intersection between fantasy and lesbian fiction, but I'm also very wary of much of what's being published in that intersection. Part of it is having some very specific tastes and standards, but part of it is a touch of paranoia around reviewing books too close to my own work. The simple fact is that I know that a lot of them aren't going to be up to my standards, but it's very easy for some people (especially in the close-knit and somewhat high-strung field of lesbian literature) to see a critical review by a fellow author as being a malicious attempt to "take down the competition". It isn't a competition. And yet I've seen enough things out there on the web to be extremely cautious about reading and reviewing lesbian fantasy unless I know right off the top that I'm going to love it, or I know that the author and the author's dedicated fans have a professional attitude. I suppose a could make an exception to my "review everything" rule, but that leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I don't want people to think that I'm deliberately avoiding books in this category because of this issue. There's also that I would very much want to love, love, love any lesbian fantasy novel I read, and it would annoy me more than usual if I found it simply ok. And of the five entries here (counting the three Bassett works as a single item), two made me wince, one was "eh, ok", one was "promising", and one was "I liked this!"

Lily in Bloom, My Lady's Service & A Sweet Revenge by Marie-Elise Bassett novelettes
Rebeccah and the Highwayman by Barbara Davies
Lancelot : Her Story - by Carol Anne Douglas
Petticoats and Promises, by Penelope Friday
Rughum and Najda by Samar Habib

Books: Other
I don't read much fiction that doesn't fall in either fantasy or lesbian fiction, but enough people had made comparisons of my books to Milan's historic romances that I decided to check one out. The Bechdel falls in here because it isn't a novel (or even really fiction).

The Duchess War - Courtney Milan
Are You My Mother: A Comic Drama by Alison Bechdel

Live Performance
In addition to my usual Cal Shakes run (although I missed reviewing Twelfth Night for some reason), I took in three Broadway shows during two New York trips, and a local small theater production. Interestingly, that's more shows than the first-run movies that I reviewed (although possibly not more than I saw).

Cal Shakes: King Lear
Cal Shakes: The Mystery of Irma Vep: A Penny Dreadful
Cal Shakes: Life is a Dream
Broadway: Hand to God
Broadway: Fun Home
Broadway: Hamilton - An American Musical
Or by Liz Duffy Adams (Anton's Well Theater Company)

Historic Cookery (i.e., recipes I tried out)
Some years, the historic cookery section is much larger.

Alpennian Almond Cakes

Movies: Lesbian movie reviews
I revived (and reprised) a series of short reviews of lesbian movies in order to have a back-log of review material to fill in when nothing else offered. I still have a lot of items on video I could include here, but I'd need to actually watch them again!

Bar Girls
Carol (also under first run)
Cynara: Poetry in Motion
Fingersmith
If These Walls Could Talk
The Incredibly True Adventures of Two Girls in Love
Kissing Jessica Stein
Mädchen in Uniform (1931, German)
The Midwife's Tale
Tipping the Velvet
When Night is Falling

Movies: first run
Other movies that I remember seeing, but clearly didn't review include the final Hunger Games movie and the new Star Wars movie. ETA: OMG and how could I forget Mad Max: Fury Road? Since I'm likely to use this post as a memory prompt for my Hugo nominations, I may keep adding to it if I remember more.

Carol
Into the Woods
Jupiter Ascending
The Martian
Mr. Holmes

Products and Services
Not so much a review as an explanation why I won't be trying and reviewing the product at the current time.

Apple Watch
hrj: (doll)
I was hoping I'd finish my current gym book in time to be this week's review, but it's a bit of a slog. (That is foreshadowing that the review will not be entirely positive.) I only have two more of these pre-written lesbian movie reviews, but I actually have a whole stack of lesbian videos I haven't watched yet, plus some that I've watched but haven't written up. Maybe I'll have a chance to get a few more into the queue over vacation next week.

* * *

I’m re-posting (sometimes in expanded form) a series of reviews of lesbian-themed movies that I originally drew up in answer to a request for recommendations of "good movies involving lesbian romances that don't end up with the protagonists deeply unhappy, dead, or both." To this set of criteria I’ve added the question, “Is the story primarily about coming out?” This set of index questions will necessarily involve some spoilers, but since I'm not reviewing any current releases, I think the statute of limitations has expired.

Many of these items are not currently in print. I'll link each to their imdb.com entry for reference. But for those currently available, Wolfe Video is the go-to distributor for lgbt movies.

* * *
Kissing Jessica Stein (2001) Straight girl Jessica gets frustrated with men and dabbles in same-sex dating with heretofore straight Helen, who falls more on the "questioning" side rather than the "experimenting" side. A romantic arc develops that goes through stumbling courtship, consummation, arguments about being closeted, coming out, a rapid slide into a platonic relationship, breaking up over that, and Jessica ending up back with a man while Helen keeps on with women. A mixed evaluation as only one of the two sticks the lesbian landing. No death, one recantation, a bit of unhappiness, and a fair amount of coming out. The movie comes across as a bit of a stereotypical cautionary tale about getting involved with apparently straight women, but it's funny and comes from a solidly female gaze.
hrj: (doll)
I really should come up with a special icon for my lesbian movie reviews series. Just for fun.

I’m re-posting (sometimes in expanded form) a series of reviews of lesbian-themed movies that I originally drew up in answer to a request for recommendations of "good movies involving lesbian romances that don't end up with the protagonists deeply unhappy, dead, or both." To this set of criteria I’ve added the question, “Is the story primarily about coming out?” This set of index questions will necessarily involve some spoilers, but since I'm not reviewing any current releases, I think the statute of limitations has expired.

Many of these items are not currently in print. I'll link each to their imdb.com entry for reference. But for those currently available, Wolfe Video is the go-to distributor for lgbt movies.

* * *

Fingersmith (2005, mini-series) This is yet another lush BBC adaptation of a Sarah Waters period piece. A plucky orphan, raised as a thief (a "fingersmith"), and an heiress collide romantically in the midst of a complex, multi-layered con job in Victorian England. There are plots and betrayals and counter-betrayals to complicate the romance. The ending is, in most respects, happy, even triumphant but there's a great deal of suspense and angst along the way. The romantic couple are both alive at the end, although that can't be said for other key characters. Coming out is a part of the story, but only a minor part.

So the summary is: no death (of protagonists), no recanting, angst but not really unhappiness, and coming out as only a minor sub-plot. But given that this is a Sarah Waters story, don't go into it making the mistake of thinking it'll be all fluffy glitter-kittens.
hrj: (doll)
This is technically a digression from my lesbian movie review series since it’s a new movie, but it fits well within the thematic questions. To recapitulate the series: these are reviews of lesbian-themed movies, originally drawn up in answer to a request for recommendations of "good movies involving lesbian romances that don't end up with the protagonists deeply unhappy, dead, or both." To this set of criteria I’ve added the question, “Is the story primarily about coming out?” This set of index questions will necessarily involve some spoilers. Although the movie is new, the book it’s based on (The Price of Salt, by Patricia Highsmith) was published in 1952. If you don’t want to be spoiled, stop reading, because the nature of my analysis will inherently involve talking about endings.

No buy link this time because it’s not out in video yet.

* * *
Carol is based on the 1952 novel The Price of Salt, by suspense novelist Patricia Highsmith (perhaps better known for titles like Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley). There were significant autobiographical aspects to The Price of Salt which was published under the pseudonym Claire Morgan, and which Highsmith did not publicly acknowledge until late in life. Give the date of the book’s publication -- the height of the lesbian pulp era -- what stands out most about the story (and its current film adaptation) is its failure to have a tragic ending. I use that phrasing advisedly given the plot’s set-up, with the title character in the middle of an acrimonious divorce from a controlling and potentially violent man who knows about a prior affair she had with a woman and who is angling to use Carol’s personal life as leverage to get sole custody of their young daughter. (Alternatively, to use his ability to get sole custody as leverage to force Carol to remain in the marriage. He is presented at the type who believes that if everyone will agree to pretend that the marriage is successful and happy, it will become so.) This is a story that telegraphs in bright blinking lights: “This Will End In Tears!” The fact that it doesn’t (and that a story breaking that established trope was published) is revolutionary for its era.

That isn’t to say that this is a happy story. Carol is depressed, isolated, and trapped, in that “what has she got to complain about” way of a wealthy socialite. Her best friend Abby (her former lover) is supportive, but in a closeted, sneaking around sort of way. Then Carol encounters Therese, working at the toy counter in a department store, where Carol is shopping for a Christmas present for her daughter. Therese is drifting through life, as she puts it “saying yes to everyone” from lack of a clear understanding of what she wants. She has a boyfriend she doesn’t want who is badgering her to have sex, to marry him, to travel to Europe with him, or any combination thereof. She never directly tells him she doesn’t want any of those things, but neither does she actually “say yes” to any of them. She has vague artistic aspirations (in the book, as a set designer; in the movie, as a photographer) but lacks to the self-confidence to pursue them. And she’s bleakly contemplating an unending future that’s missing something she can’t even put her finger on.

What the movie depicts clearly is the sparks that fly between the two women at their first encounter. Therese takes advantage of having access to Carol’s mailing address to return a pair of gloves she left at the story, followed by a thank-you meal out where she desperately tries to imitate the sophistication she sees in Carol. Carol certainly knows the nature of her own attraction, but Therese is only slightly behind Carol in self-knowledge. Another thing the movie depicts realistically is the awkward dance of communication of that attraction and knowledge in an era when open lesbian relationships could lose you your job...or custody of your child.

When Carol’s husband puts the screws on her in the lead-up to the divorce settlement, she impulsively invites Therese to accompany her on a cross-country drive -- not so much to go anywhere in particular, but just to get away. What neither of them know is that Carol’s husband has hired a private eye to tail them and gather incontrovertible evidence of Carol’s “deviance” via tape recordings from the motel room next door, the night that the two women finally end up in bed together. When this is discovered, Carol leaves in the middle of the night and flies back to New York to try to do damage control, with BFF Abby flying in to break the news to Therese and drive her back to the city. There are psychiatrists and tense, brittle family get-togethers, and meetings with lawyers.

There are a lot of ways the story could have taken a left turn into tragedy. When Carol is holding a gun on the private eye after confronting him, she could have decided she had nothing to lose. The divorce proceedings could have gone in the most historically-prevalent direction with Carol being forbidden any further contact with her daughter and her life being turned into an open scandal in court. A more traditional lesbian-pulp ending (which often included contractual requirements that the characters be punished or converted) might have involved a suicide or fatal accident, a return by one or the other of the characters to the waiting male partner (probably Therese who plays the role of nearly-innocent ingenue in contrast to Carol’s experienced and world-weary character).

And none of that happens, although we are set up to expect it. This is what I mean by the movie “failing to have a tragic ending”. The mistily ambiguous ending at least strongly suggests that Carol and Therese have decided to return to their relationship, and that Carol may have succeeded in being granted occasional supervised access to her daughter, despite openly refusing to recant or reform. But this isn’t anything you could call a “happy” ending. The characters themselves have little expectation of more than a temporary fling, then moving on to similar affairs once the initial passion has cooled. (When Abby discusses her and Carol’s affair with Therese she says something to the effect of, “And then it changed and we moved on. It always changes.”) They have no models for stable, long-term relationships and absolutely no support from society. Therese has a couple of encounters with other characters that is it suggested are lesbian or bi: a “mannish” couple in a record store, a woman at a party who seems to be meant to ping our gaydar (and possibly to ping Therese's as well). But the characters have an overwhelming sense of being cut off from their social contexts, of needing to keep their romantic interests entirely apart from their day-to-day interactions with friends and co-workers. Because, of course, that was what life was like in the ‘50s if you were queer and were clinging to the illusion of a “respectable” life.

So how does this match up with the review questions? No death. Somewhat surprisingly for the genre, no recanting (though we’re kept on the edge of our seats on this point, particularly in the opening scene before we flash-back to the beginning of the story). I wouldn’t necessarily put this strongly in the category of a coming-out theme. Therese is experiencing her first relationship with a woman, but she accepts her attraction rather easily. (And nobody is technically “coming out” in this context since they're all solidly closeted.) Although the resolution can’t exactly be called “unhappy”, neither can it really be called “happy”. I think I’d have to settle for non-tragically dreary.

As noted above, in taking this route, the original novel was ground-breaking. But this isn’t the ‘50s. And while the movie is a gorgeous period piece of its setting (and one can’t deny that Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara act the hell out of their roles), one has to consider why this particular story was chosen to produce. Who is the audience for this film? What message is it intended to convey? To today's young queer people, it must seem as disconnected from their lives as…well, as a Victorian setting would have been for me. Despite the sympathetic and non-tragic depiction of the characters, it's hard not to see it as a costume-drama for the entertainment of straight audiences in the same way that the sanitized, white-washed Stonewall is. I'd like to have loved this movie, but it doesn't feel like I was the intended audience. That doesn't mean much, I suppose -- I so rarely am.
hrj: (doll)
I’m re-posting (sometimes in expanded form) a series of reviews of lesbian-themed movies that I originally drew up in answer to a request for recommendations of "good movies involving lesbian romances that don't end up with the protagonists deeply unhappy, dead, or both." To this set of criteria I’ve added the question, “Is the story primarily about coming out?” This set of index questions will necessarily involve some spoilers, but since I'm not reviewing any current releases, I think the statute of limitations has expired.

Many of these items are not currently in print. I'll link each to their imdb.com entry for reference. But for those currently available, Wolfe Video is the go-to distributor for lgbt movies.

* * *

Mädchen in Uniform (1931, b&w, German, subtitled)

Title translation: "Girls in Uniform"

There has been more than one version of this movie made, and I believe they differ somewhat in the aspects considered under this review series. So this review only applies to the specific version listed here. Trigger warning for (unsuccessful) suicide attempt.

A student at an authoritarian girls school develops a crush on a sympathetic teacher but her public declaration of love triggers an untenable situation when the teacher stands up for the students and is forced to resign. Although she saves the student from tragedy at the end, there is no clear indication of any "happy ending" available for either of them. Nobody dies (barely). It doesn't follow the typical "coming out" plot, as the emotional relationship between the student and teacher is (barely) deniable as "just a schoolgirl crush". Indeed, it's the reactions of those around them that frame it as being more significant than that. But as the lesbian themes are (barely) subtextual, one can't really evaluate the story arc on the "(no) turning straight" axis. Let's sum it up with "no happily ever after."

One of the fascinating aspects of this movie is that it was made at all. Compare this movie--actually made in Germany in the early 1930s, with Cabaret which portrays the same era (although obviously not the same social setting!) from the safe distance of decades later. The suggestion of sexual open-mindedness reflected in different ways in both films are the more poignant for knowing what was to come under Nazi rule (which is explicitly depicted in Cabaret). The lesbian themes in Mädchen are, in some ways, incidental to the message about the need of human beings, and especially children, for loving connections. In the setting of an all-female institution, those connections will necessarily be between female characters. But the authorial choice to use that setting, and therefore to present the message via intense emotional relationships that cannot help being read as "lesbian", is not one that could have been made in many times and places. In 1931, it almost certainly could not have been made in the USA under the Hayes Code.

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