2008 Year in Review: Movies

The queer festival circuit was like a breath of fresh air
for women sick of so many years of trite or amateurish lesbian films, with a
continuing improvement in the overall quality, if not quantity, of work on

Compared to 2007, there were far fewer laugh-fests and less
“lite” fare, save for comedies Butch
and When Kiran Met Karan
and the “dramedy” Caramel.

Instead, the trend was much more towards romantic drama and
even mystery, with several very strong foreign entries.

Though it came out early in 2008, Caramel wowed audiences with its stylish and nuanced take on
Eastern vs. Western culture. Set in a Lebanese hair salon, each of the film’s
many characters (including tomboy Rima — played by Joanna Moukarzel -
who falls for a woman) and story threads made for a deeper, more layered take
on a traditional romantic comedy.

A scene from Caramel

AfterEllen.com contributing writer Stacie Ponder offered a
glowing review of
the film:

Caramel marks
the feature film debut of Nadine Labaki, and it’s a strong one at that. It’s a
romantic comedy/chick flick with a few layers, with a bit more to chew on than
the standard trite Hollywood fare. In the end, I simply found myself wanting more time with these alluring women; I wanted to
see where their paths led, and I wanted them all to find happiness.

One of the year’s best examples of “doing more with less”
was the micro budget comedy Butch Jamie,
which was written, directed, edited, and starred Michelle Ehlen.

Without oodles of talent, the picture would’ve had no
chance, but thanks to Ehlen’s fantastic comic timing and her smart, tight
script, the film had an infectious charm and a slew of laugh-out-loud moments.

Michelle Ehlen in Butch Jamie

Unfortunately, the other most noteworthy romantic comedy,
the much-hyped When Kiran met Karen,
failed to impress, according to AfterEllen contributing writer Shauna Swartz’
mixed review:

…it’s hard to get too invested in who ends up with
whom, equally deserving as they are of each other’s bad company. Kiran in
particular proves to be a poor judge of character when it comes to both men and women. And in the end, it’s hard to care too much about the meeting of two fictional characters I’d never care to meet in real

The festival circuit was absolutely packed with dramatic
features, several of which mixed elements of mystery in with the romance and
melodrama. While some may have been put off by the darkness of the year’s
better films, the precise, expert filmmaking of the work was undeniable.

It’s perhaps unsurprising that all of these were “foreign”
productions — and most were not English-language films. It was fantastic to see
such culturally diverse representation of lesbian characters, and to enjoy the
caliber of talent on display.

Affinity was
one of two excellent period dramas (the other being The World Unseen) to grace queer festivals this year.

Anna Madely in Affinity

Adapted from a Sarah Waters novel (like Tipping the Velvet and Fingersmith),
the film was a romantic mystery set in Victorian England. Centered on a
depressed, wealthy young woman who visits a women’s prison, the central
conflict of the story develops when she falls deeply in love with a mysterious
prisoner — a spiritual “medium” who is serving time for murder.

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