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Photo retrieved from SerendipityPoint.com

Below Her Mouth (2017) has taken over. The accolades—“a cinematic voice to the female orgasm,” says producer Melissa Coghlan—promise a sexy, sensual film to watch on Valentine’s Day.

On the signs of bus stops at major intersections and in high-traffic TTC stations in Toronto, we see a stunning bronzed Natalie Krill and her partner, the androgynous and handsome Erika Linder. They are in a tangled fit of passion, breathing one another in. The online trailers are no different: a symphony of throbbing beats, wandering hands, skin on skin in darkly lit places, neon lights and feminine gasps.

It seems to be impossible to glean a lot of what happens in the film from the trailers and the posters alone. And perhaps that is intentional: sex sells, and there is plenty of it of the Sapphic type in Below Her Mouth. But having watched it at TIFF 2016 in September, I can’t help but feel that the film sells itself short in its promotion. While the plot is very straightforward—girl-meets-girl, with a sprinkle of Oh, but I’m engaged! on the side—there are specific factors that make this film worthwhile apart from its promise of sex. In fact, in terms of local queer women filmmakers, this film is groundbreaking

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Photo retrieved from AfterEllen.com

The Female Gaze

Below Her Mouth differs from what critics will inevitably compare it to: Blue is the Warmest Color (2013), a similar erotically-charged lesbian love story. In particular, Blue is infamous for its pornographic, explicit and graphic lesbian sex scenes, described by Julie Maroh as “a brutal and surgical display,” and the fact that it was filmed quite obviously from Abdellatif Kechiche’s own male gaze. Women were put up for view in their own movie; the lesbians this movie was apparently made for had ended up feeling objectified after viewing it.

With Below Her Mouth, April Mullen subverts the lesbian erotica genre with a strict mandate by representing sex in a female gaze. Both the characters, Jasmine (Natalie Krill) and Dallas (Erika Linder), are stand-ins for women who love women, encouraging identification with their sexual identities, their genders and their coming out stories. And contrary to many lesbian movies that usually show two conventionally attractive Hollywood femmes, Below Her Mouth channels an explicitly queer type of sexiness with Erika Linder’s masculine, butch charm, representing a facet of lesbian sex culture not usually touched upon in mainstream queer film.

In the film, the female gaze is one of emotional connection through sex, and celebrates sexual intimacy rather than hard, passionate fucking. There is nothing clinical nor surgical about the way it is filmed, or their chemistry onscreen. In fact, there’s something more tender in Jasmine and Dallas’s relationship than your typical Hollywood pair: it is a connection defined by their shared experiences rather than one forged by directed pornography. It is artful, sensitive and profound.

The Local Touch

The director, April Mullen, hails from Niagara Falls and holds a degree from Ryerson University. Setting the film in Toronto gives it a rich texture that we should be able to connect to in the most organic sense—it shows the dark alleyways and escapes in the city and its more sexy, trendy, chic sides as well. The combination of the dirty and dark Toronto vibe with the bright artificial lights that cast the girls aglow makes it unique for a queer film, but watching it as a Torontonian allows it to feel very much like home.

It isn’t a secret Below Her Mouth resides in our city, either. Dallas walks off the sidewalk to Filmore’s as the familiar thump-thump-thump of a passing 505 streetcar resounds in one scene. She pushes Jasmine against a brick wall in an alleyway on Bathurst and Dundas in another. Jasmine and Dallas spend time near the Beaches, with no mistaking the CN Tower in the background. And perhaps my favourite of all is spotting Jasmine rocking a U of T t-shirt when she’s in bed at Dallas’s place, which feels like an in-joke and a nod to our school, making this film seem so much more real.

All in all, Below Her Mouth is a treat for all Torontonian queer ladies, and it has a lot going for it beyond what just the trailers show in the hour and a half that it runs. It isn’t just sexy, it’s breathtaking.

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Below Her Mouth premieres today, Friday, February 10, 2017.

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