Cinema that represents the LGBTQ+ community is increasingly finding its way into the mainstream. Case in point: the Hindi film Badhaai Do, starring Rajkummar Rao and Bhumi Pednekar, received positive reviews from critics and audiences alike after its release earlier this year.
This shows that audiences are becoming more receptive to movies that do not necessarily deal with the traditional “heteronormative” (the belief or attitude that being straight is the only normal and natural expression of sexuality) storylines.
Movie buffs also want to explore LGBTQ+ cinema beyond the wildly popular ones. When it comes to films about women who love women, or “wlw” films, it is films like Deepa Mehta’s Fire (1996), Todd Haynes’ Carol (2015), and Abdellatif Kechiche’s Blue is the Warmest Colour (2013) that are usually the first ones that people end up watching. It is also these films that end up opening more doors for their viewers, in more ways than one.
So, here’s a (in no particular order) list containing some of the most unique wlw films from across the world, opening a few more doors:
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1. Sancharram (2004), directed by Ligy J. Pullapally
Pullapally’s Malayalam film revolves around two teenage women in rural Kerala, and how they come to accept their sexuality despite social disapproval. It is rare to find an Indian movie set in a village that deals explicitly with homosexuality – reason enough to seek this underrated gem out.
2. Saving Face (2004), directed by Alice Wu
Wu, who was introduced to millennials through her Netflix film The Half of It (2020), takes a look at what it means to be a queer Chinese-American woman in her feature-length debut. She also depicts mother-daughter dynamics in a realistic and heartwarming way.
3. Rafiki (2018), directed by Wanuri Kahiu
Rafiki was banned in its native Kenya for a “clear intent to promote lesbianism” but went on to become the first Kenyan film to be screened at Cannes. Memorable for its use of colours, the film is about two young women in love, who are caught at the crossroads of class differences, family pressures, and the LGBT rights movement.
4. The World Unseen (2007), directed by Shamim Sharif
Set in South Africa in the 1950s, during the beginning of the apartheid era, the film centers around two women of Indian origin who fall in love. As the country heads towards intolerance and hate, the characters in the film show how love can empower and build a path to resistance.
5. Comets (2019), directed by Tamar Shavgulidze
Set in the Georgian countryside, Shavgulidze’s debut is about two middle-aged women who meet unexpectedly for the first time after an adolescent love affair. Through poetic dialogue and stunning visuals, the viewer is transported into the inner lives of the protagonists. The film is streaming on Mubi.
6. Elisa y Marcela (2019), directed by Isabel Coixet
This Spanish film is based on the real-life story of Elisa Sánchez Loriga and Marcela Gracia Ibeas, two women who posed as a heterosexual couple and got married in early 20th century Spain. Theirs was the first same-sex marriage recorded in Spain, decades before the country legalised this in 2005. The film is streaming on Netflix.
7. Kakera: A Piece of Our Life (2009), directed by Momoko Ando
Ando’s adaptation of a Japanese manga makes the viewer question long-held notions of gender and sexuality. The way the protagonist Haru navigates the changes in her life is so relatable and gives this movie immense repeat value. If there’s one quote that sums it up, it’s this: “It’s only hard when we categorise ourselves.”
8. Appropriate Behavior (2014), directed by Desiree Akhavan
This comedy about a bisexual Persian woman in the US starts off with a break-up. Shirin, the protagonist, is not a likeable character, but it’s easy to see why she is the way she is: the pressures of conforming to a conservative community’s norms collide with the inner need to be true to oneself. The result is one escapade after another.