Lady Love

Multiple winner of the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Festival, Blue Is the Warmest Color is scheduled for release this month on DVD, so we can finally see what all the fuss is about. A French film to be sure, Blue generated considerable notoriety for its explicit sex scenes, but it was certainly not the first film about lesbian love to raise the eyebrows of mainstream viewers.

Fantastic films on women who love women have varied greatly in their tone and conformity to the times.

In 1967, director Mark Rydell (who would later direct John Wayne’s The Cowboys and On Golden Pond) adapted D.H. Lawrence’s novella The Fox for the big screen, which in turn generated a Playboy spread on the side.

The film is about two women (Sandy Dennis and Anne Heywood) alone on a remote farm in the Canadian winter and the disruption in their cozy life together when a typical Laurentian male (Keir Dullea) enters the scene. The photography is gorgeous, but Rydell outdoes D.H. Lawrence in terms of laying on the symbolism thick and heavy. There’s nothing subtle about The Fox, though the sex scenes (fairly tame by today’s standards) were certainly provocative enough without being prurient. In its tragic conclusion, the film retains the novella’s ambivalence about the gender struggle.

The next year, The Killing of Sister George was initially slapped with an X rating, later reduced to an R in 1972. Directed by the unlikely Robert Aldrich (The Dirty Dozen and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?), Sister George features a ferocious performance by Beryl Reid as the middle-aged star of a British TV series who learns her character’s about to be killed off.

Her tumultuous personal life has her struggling to maintain control over her younger roommate and lover (Susannah York). Aldrich and his cast pull no punches. More than just a film about lesbians in conflict, Sister George is a powerful drama (not without its comic moments) about love and loneliness in and outside the accepted social framework, as represented by the traditional BBC series in which the non-traditional title character is trying to survive.

Thirty years later, in 1999, the same year Hilary Swank won her first Oscar in Boys Don’t Cry (a grim true-life story of a young woman who tried to pass as male), director Jamie Babbit chose a radically different approach in dealing with gay love. But I’m a Cheerleader uses broad satire to skewer sexual prejudices with the comic tale of a young girl (Natasha Lyonne) sent to a rehabilitation camp for homosexuals to be properly readjusted. Silly at times, hilarious at others, But I’m a Cheerleader probably scores best with its target audience, in effect preaching to the choir.

No such limitations with Show Me Love, a truly marvelous 1998 Swedish gem about a lonely young high school girl who develops a crush on one of the most popular, outgoing girls in school. Charming, funny and genuinely touching, writer/director Lukas Moodysson’s first film is a treasure, featuring absolutely wonderful performances by its two leads and a conclusion that’s about as near perfect as one could imagine.

In 2005, the British Film Institute ranked Show Me Love No. 6 in a list of movies children should see by age 14, ahead of Toy Story and The Wizard of Oz. Such polls tend toward the ridiculous, but Show Me Love really is that good — though it’s definitely not for Disney nor the Yellow Brick Road.