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Below Her Mouth

April Mullen’s BELOW HER MOUTH depicts the heated love affair between Dallas, a confident lesbian who works in construction, and Jasmine, a fashion editor who lives with her male fiancé, Rile.

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April Mullen’s BELOW HER MOUTH depicts the heated love affair between Dallas, a confident lesbian who works in construction, and Jasmine, a fashion editor who lives with her male fiancé, Rile. From appearances, it should fit squarely into the straight-woman-turned-lesbian subgenre, alongside films such as John Sayles’ LIANNA (1983) and Patricia Rozema’s WHEN NIGHT IS FALLING (1995). BELOW HER MOUTH however, takes a patently different approach: while the self-assured lesbian charmers in the aforementioned classics awaken the passion of their love interests via sensuality, intellect, and emotional openness, Dallas does so by out-butching Jasmine’s fiancé, proving to be the more virile of the two, and winning Jasmine through dogged sexual pursuit. For some viewers, this may translate as an erotic and transgressive twist, but for others it may read as a pornographic fantasy that doesn’t resonate with the nuanced ways in which queer or lesbian women connect with each other.

The way the film introduces its protagonists jolts the viewer into its filmic universe, which seems to have evaded several waves of feminism. A construction crew begins catcalling Jasmine when she pulls up in her car. Dallas, the boss of the roofing company, catcalls right along with them instead of chastising them, and Jasmine appears flattered rather than annoyed. In a different context (e.g. a queer porn, a feminist comedy sketch), the scene could just as easily unfold as a joke, a fantastical appropriation of stereotypical sexist buffoonery. However, in a film that strives to be an emotionally immersive, erotic drama, moments like these feel transplanted, half-baked, from a soft-core porn.

One may argue that Dallas just as easily could have been cast as a man (whose macho tactics have been pulled directly from a pick-up-artist handbook), and that her gender is almost incidental to the plot. After behaving coldly toward several women she sleeps with, her newfound emotional response to Jasmine places her within the familiar Hollywood schema of the ‘transformed-womanizer’— unironically. The film also represents feminine-presenting women as inherently passive, and perpetuates rape culture’s myth that the best way into a woman’s heart and pants is through unwavering persistence. After Jasmine initially rejects Dallas, explaining her engagement to Rile, Dallas chases her through a crowded party and even down the street, refusing to take “no” for an answer. The film’s efforts to eroticize this behavior by placing it in a lesbian context may tantalize some viewers, but will raise red flags for those expecting a piece of feminist filmmaking.

Mullen and her adroit, all-female crew clearly share a commitment to celebrating the protagonists’ sexuality and pleasure. However, they would have benefitted from committing equal energy to character development, dialogue, and providing dimensionality to Jasmine and Dallas’s connection. Well-framed shots of model-esque bodies in the throes of pleasure may make a nice poster image, but they fall short as an empowering or substantial thesis from a female perspective.

Sara Neidorf

Credits

Kanada 2016, 92 min
Genre: Drama, Erotic Film
Director: April Mullen
Author: Stephanie Fabrizi
DOP: Maya Bankovic
Montage: Michelle Szemberg
Music: NOA
Distributor: Edition Salzgeber
Cast: Natalie Krill, Erika Linder, Sebastian Pigott, Mayko Nguyen
FSK: 16
Release: 13.04.2017

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