BFI Player launches Female Desire on Screen season
James R | On 24, Apr 2020
BFI Player is launching a new online season dedicated to Female Desire on Screen.
The season, which was originally going to run at BFI Southbank in April, is going digital, with BFI Player unveiling a new collection of films from today and hosting a series of events and discussions on the BFI YouTube channel.
The season seeks to flip the switch on a century of the male gaze and find space for women’s own lust and sexual expression in film, from classics of world cinema such as Belle De Jour (Luis Buñuel, 1967) to films that explore the complicated relationship between fantasy, feminism, and desire, such as In the Cut (Jane Campion, 2003).
The season coincides with the publishing of a new book of essays She Found It at the Movies – Women Writers on Sex, Desire and Cinema, edited by Christina Newland, who has also programmed the season. A number of contributors to the book will also take part in discussions as part of the events programme – including Simran Hans, Catherine Bray and Willow Catelyn Maclay.
Here’s a rundown of the collections and events as part of the season:
A cultural phenomenon, DIRTY DANCING (Emile Ardolino, 1987) made Patrick Swayze a sex symbol and a sensual focus forthe female gaze. Asthe camera ogles his graceful physicality, the story itself offers a counter-narrative to traditional ideas about women and sex often seen in movies, including its pro-choice messaging. Jennifer Grey’s Baby is a plucky, desirous feminist hero who offers ‘everywoman’ identification for her audience. Luis Bunuel’s chilly arthouse classic BELLE DU JOUR (1967), starring the repressed, glamourous housewife played unforgettably by Catherine Deneuve, is a masterclass in aesthetic eroticism and the complexities of BDSM. Outrageous for its time in its linking of female sexual liberation with the act of prostitution, viewed now it is as daring as ever.
Female Pleasure and Selfhood
SET IT OFF (F. Gary Gray, 1996), starring Queen Latifah and Jada Pinkett-Smith, is a feminist awakening with female friendship more at the forefront than sex. But within its heist movie parameters, it becomes a surprisingly moving treatise on the nature of self love and sexual confidence, with female pleasure, sex positivity and selfhood above the attractions of any man.
Desire in Erotic Thrillers
The season will address the complex relationship between fantasy, feminism, and desire with Jane Campion’s erotic thriller IN THE CUT (2003). Caught up in the investigation of a series of grisly murders in her neighborhood, Meg Ryan’s Frannie falls hard for a homicide detective and homme fatale played by Mark Ruffalo. The film throws convention out the window with its departure from Ryan’s ‘good girl’ roles and genuinely titillating sex scenes that privilege a female perspective.
Queer Love Stories
The Wachowski’s debut feature BOUND (1996) stars Jennifer Tilly as Violet, a gangster’s moll to Joe Pantoliano’s Ceasar. Their dysfunctional dynamic is interrupted by lesbian ex con Corky, played by Gina Gershon, whose seduction of Violet comes with a plan to steal money from the mob. This violent neo-noir puts a rare focus on two women who not only unapologetically enjoy sex, but enjoy it with each other. A low-budget and landmark feature, THE WATERMELON WOMAN (1996) was one of the first filmsto be directed and released by a black lesbian woman, Cheryl Dunye. The story centres on a documentarian who spends her time searching cinema archives for black and queer representation, as well as her steamy love affairs; it’s a movie of both cerebral and sexual appeals.
One of the most controversial and sexually explicit of films from audacious director Catherine Breillat, ROMANCE (1999) tells the exploratory tale of a young woman in a sexually flat monogamous relationship who begins to trawl bars for more exciting opportunities. There she meets a man (played by real life porn star Rocco Siffredi) before embarking on an S&M relationship with her boss. An erotic fantasy journey through several periods of history, Walerian Borowczyk’s anthology film IMMORAL TALES (1973) is as outrageous as it is surreal. IMMORAL TALES examines sexual mores and proclivities across four distinctive historical moments, featuring incest, domination, and blasphemy, all with a dreamy softcore look that’s pure 70s porno-chic.
Marielle Heller’s debut DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL (2015) tells the audacious story of Minnie (Bel Powley), a teen girl growing up in San Francisco at the tail end of the 1970s. Minnie feels a growing attraction to her mother’s dirtbag boyfriend and an inappropriate affair begins between them.
Diary of a Teenage Girl – 24th May
To launch the collection, a live watch-along will take place with programmer Christina Newland live blogging on BFI.org.uk from 7pm.
In the Cut – 29th April
A discussion about In the Cut with Newland and Hans will take place at 7pm on Wednesday on the BFI YouTube channel.
Girls on Film – 5th May
The Girls on Film podcast will devote a special episode to the season, featuring short readings, lively discussion and recommendations for classic films that explore and invite desire.
Bound – 6th May
Newland will discuss the film at 7pm on BFI YouTube with Bray and film critic Willow Catelyn Maclay.