When thinking of a ‘best’ list of LGBT related films, the criteria is so varied that it’s very hard to pick just a small amount. Are we comparing them in terms of narrative? Or is it strong and unique characters? Is it in terms of innovation of the genre, and can we even call lesbian or LGBT films a genre in general, considering they can vary from comedies, to dramas, to murder stories?
Of course, one must consider all these things at once because, after all, films are complex and multi-sided. Although many films were made in earlier cinema about lesbians – whether openly or in more subtle forms – it is the New Queer Cinema that really transformed the definition of sexuality and the potential of what non-heterosexual films can be as well as the way LGBT characters can be presented. Although the movement never became mainstream, it has subtly infiltrated both indie and Hollywood cinema in a way that it’s traces are still seen today.
Without further ado, although a list of great films should never be limited to such a small number as 10, these titles definitely stand as strong representations of lesbian films.
10. The Handmaiden (Park Chan-wook, 2016)
The Handmaiden is a brilliant film in all its aspects, with a plot that doesn’t stop to shock and surprise at every turn. The film follows a con-man, Count Fujiwara (Ha Jung-woo) who is on a mission to seduce and steal the inheritance of a rich Japanese woman Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee).
To carry out his plan he hires the help of a professional thief, Sook-Hee (Kim Tae-ri) to act as her handmaiden. However, the women are smarter than Fujiwara thought and what follows is an endless power swap of the characters, in the process of which Sook-Hee and Lady Hideko fall in love.
9. The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1972)
Although this is not the film most associated with Fassbinder, it is a real gem and one of his greatest works. The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant was adapted by him from his own play of the same name, giving it a great cinematographic spin and illuminating it with rich colours suitable to a film about a fashion designer. The story is both humorous and tragic, showing the difficulties of finding true love when you’re rich and famous – a story quite personal to Fassbinder himself.
Set in a luscious and artistic apartment of Petra Von Kant (Margit Cartensen), a powerful woman who is arrogant and self-righteous, whose life changes for the better or worse when, infatuated with a young model Karin (Hanna Schygulla), she invites her to move in with her, causing a series of drama.
8. My Summer of Love (Pawel Pawlikowski, 2004)
The summer is a strange romantic time for youth. A period where you have a lot of time to yourself, and longing for something exciting to happen that will help you feel more alive.
Set in such a period of time, My Summer of Love explores a unique relationship between two young girls that could not have less in common. Tamsin (Emily Blunt), coming from an upper-class background and a spoiled attitude and Mona (Natalie Press) a lower-class girl hiding her brightness behind a hard-faced mask.
However, whether it is the summer, or the bonding over their familial problems, the girls immediately become close and find themselves crossing over the strict friendship barrier.
7. Pariah (Dee Rees, 2011)
Like many LGBT films, Pariah is a film of self-discovery, and one that is very much personal to the director herself. The film follows Alike (Adepero Oduye) in a coming of age story that creates a lot of sympathy and identification with the young teenager.
One can’t help but root for her as she is forced to hide her unfemininity in front of her parents, changing clothes before seeing them as a reassurance of her normality. At the same time we can experience the joy of her first love and the transformation in makes in her and for her relationship with herself as she finally finds someone who understands her.
The film is filmed with beautiful cinematography from Bradford Young that reflects Alike’s emotions through the saturated colours at a night club scene and green murky tones of desperation as she finds out the price of being herself.
6. Desert Hearts (Donna Deitch, 1986)
Desert Hearts is a ground breaking film in that, for the first time, a man was not in any way involved in the romance between two women.
Armed with powerful and complex characters, Desert Hearts follows Vivian Bell (Helen Shaver) in an attempt to start fresh after her divorce, as she learns to rediscover who she is. The spark she needed appears in the form of Cay (Patricia Charbonneau), a bright and energetic sculptor who has long learnt to forget about society’s permission when it comes to living her life as she wants. She is fearless and not afraid to be challenging, something that immediately draws Vivian. The films western rural landscapes serve as a backdrop for the inspiring affair.