2008 Year in Review: Movies

The Secrets
was set in one of Israel’s
Holy Cities (specifically, Safed), within a seminary school for orthodox Jewish
women. In this ultra-traditional world, Noemi (Ania Bukstein) and Michel
(Michal Shtamler) fall in love with one another as they help a sickly
older woman (and former prisoner) to find peace with God. The film examined the
prickly territory between religion and sexuality, and it delved deeply into the
primacy and power of both spiritual and sexual experiences.

Though not everyone was happy with the film’s ending, it was
utterly captivating from start to finish.

Ania Bukstein (top) and Michal Shtamler in The Secrets

Similarly, Vivere presented
a complex, interwoven tale involving a young German woman, her pregnant teenage
sister, and an older woman who gets involved in both of their lives by means of
a car accident.

The events of the film were presented three times, with each
perspective revealing more layers and details to the complete picture. Its out
writer/director Angelina Maccarone put something very special together &#8212 a movie that
entertains and works on several levels, offering some very interesting
commentary on age, sexual orientation and culture, especially when the lines
among them tend to blur.

Hannelore Elsner in Vivere

Rounding out the Western European offerings was Water Lilies, from out
French writer/director Céline Sciamma. As dark in tone as Affinity and portions of The Secrets, the film was all about
obsession &#8212 and teenage angst. Like Caramel
and I Can’t Think Straight, the film
marked its director’s feature debut &#8212 and Water Lilies is arguably the best overall film of the three.

An official selection at the famed Cannes film festival, AfterEllen reviewerJulie Bolcer was quite impressed, stating:

Water Lilies
delivers a vivid impression of Euro-teen angst set against the backdrop of
competitive synchronized swimming in the Paris suburb of Cergy… the ideal
location for Sciamma’s warm-weather tale of 15-year-olds overwhelmed by the
prospect of their biological destinies and the confusing novelty of their

A scene from Water Lilies

Somewhat lighter in tone was Taiwanese director Zero Chou’s
(Spider Lilies) poetic Drifting Flowers.
With three loosely connected stories about life and love, subtly gorgeous
cinematography, and an eye for misfits and outcasts who don’t fit into
traditional gender roles, the film was a truly pleasant surprise.

Serena Fang (left) with Chao Yi-lan in Drifting FLowers

It’s not a stretch to call 2008 a renaissance year for
lesbian film.

More than half of the notable releases with lesbian
characters featured women of color, very few films treated lesbian characters
as dispensable or one-dimensional, and the independent queer festival circuit
was absolutely brimming with talent. With the overwhelming strength of so many
of the year’s noteworthy releases, and the encouraging debut of several new
filmmakers, it’s hard not to be hopeful for the future.

It’s also incredibly heartening that directors across the
gender/sexuality spectrum are finally getting lesbian representation “right,” including
straight men (Fatih Akin with The Edge of
), gay men (Gus Van Sant with Milk),
straight women (Diane English with The
), and of course, queer women (Shamim Sarif, Michelle Ehlen, Zero
Chou, and so on).

This can only mean one thing &#8212 it’s also time to offer
strong and unyielding support to queer and queer-friendly cinema. In times of
economic uncertainty, it’s all the more important to ensure that our stories
will be told &#8212 and that our community continues to garner positive
representation in every possible way.

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