Lesbian Film Guide: Genderbending

by Chris Alderson

Sometimes a luscious raven-haired woman epitomizes beauty; at other times beauty can just as easily be seen in the sexy tomboyish girl next door. This week, we bring you five stories of women who challenge gender roles in search of their own identities.



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When 10-year-old Laure (Zoe Heran), moves with her family to a house in the French suburbs, the other kids mistake her for a boy. Taking advantage of this mistake, Laure introduces herself to the neighbourhood kids as Mikhael, creating a new and exciting identity for herself.
Eventually, her younger sister Jeanne (Malonn Levana) discovers the deception but keeps her secret so she can tag along with Laure and her friends. When romance blooms between Mikhael and friend Lisa (Jeanne Disson), things become complicated. With the school year fast approaching, Laure’s long days of summer fun are drawing to an end and her true identity threatens to be exposed.
Out writer-director, Celine Sciamma (Water Lilies) looks at gender and identity through the eyes of a young girl in this thought-provoking coming of age story.
Zoe Heran portrays Laure/Mikhael incredibly well as she steers through a labyrinth of challenges in an effort to be herself. Malonn Levana stands out as Laure’s loveably inquisitive younger sister Jeanne.
Country: France Language: French


Tipping the Velvet

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When Nancy “Nan” Astley (Rachael Stirling) is introduced to the world of 19th century Music Halls, she is captivated. Enchanted by male impersonator Kitty Butler (Keeley Hawes), Nan falls head over heels in love and the two women embark on a voyage of discovery that skyrockets them to success in the Music Halls of London.

When Kitty betrays her, Nan is plunged into poverty, and lured by the predatory Diana Lethaby (Anna Chancellor) into the lesbian underworld of the 1890’s. Along this twisted path, Nan’s zest for life does not waver nor does her quest to find true love.

Based on Sarah Waters’ debut novel ‘Tipping the Velvet’, screenwriter Andrew Davies deftly creates a compelling journey of a young girl’s exploration of gender and identity. Bathed in erotic sensuality, the film delves into the previously hidden world of Victorian erotica.

Rachael Stirling is charming as the naive Nan Astley who is fiercely attracted to male impersonator Kitty Butler. Keeley Hawes on the other hand, is sexy and alluring as hesitant lesbian Kitty Butler. 


My Friend from Faro

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When teenaged tomboy Mel (Anjorka Strechel) nearly crashes into Jenny (Lucie Hollmann) with her classic BMW, she is smitten. Confusion arises when Jenny mistakenly thinks that Mel is a boy and Mel herself does nothing dispel the illusion. Instead, Mel pretends to be ‘Miguel’ to continue seeing the beautiful Jenny.

The two women begin dating and soon fall in love; all the while Mel goes to extraordinary lengths to hide her real identity. When at last, Mel’s gender is discovered; she faces humiliation and violence. Jenny however, has already fallen in love and must decide whether Mel’s gender is a barrier to true love.

My Friend from Faro is Nana Neul’s stunning directorial debut. Her account of Mel’s tender awakening from tomboy to lesbian brings sympathy and understanding to the film.

Relative unknown actress Anjorka Strechel portrays Mel in a highly believable way as she comes to terms with her sexuality. Lucie Hollmann provides a solid performance as a teenage girl dealing with the confusion of finding herself in love with another woman.

Language: German/Portuguese

Albert Nobbs

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Albert Nobbs (Glenn Close) is a woman living as a man in order to find work in 19th century Dublin. As a waiter at Morrison’s Hotel, Albert lives a lonely life diligently saving his money in order to realize his dream, to purchase his own tobacconist shop.

When Hubert Page (Janet McTeer), arrives to paint the hotel rooms, he is required to share a bed with Albert. Horrified, Albert attempts to conceal his secret, but is found out. Hubert then confesses that he too is a woman living as a man but in contrast to Albert, Hubert lives out rightly with his wife Cathleen (Bronagh Gallagher). When Albert decides to take a wife too, complications arise bringing about an unexpected chain of events.

Producer/actor/writer Glenn Close adapted “The Singular Life of Albert Nobbs” by George Moore to bring this outstanding period piece to the screen. Albert Nobbs is a thought-provoking story of a woman who transforms her life in order to survive in 19th century Ireland.

Glenn Close portrays eccentric Albert Nobbs to perfection, a brilliant performance. Janet McTeer is virtually unrecognizable as Hubert Page in an equally stunning accomplishment.


Butch Jamie

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Out of work actress, Jamie Klein (Michelle Ehlen) has auditioned for a myriad of female roles, but is always rejected because she is too butch. Adding to her frustration is the fact that her roommate Lola’s (Olivia Nix) cat ‘Howard’ is a more successful actor than she is. When Jamie at last decides to audition for a male role and just be herself, she lands the part. The one condition of the role however, is that Jamie not reveal that she is in fact a woman.

Crazy mishaps ensue as Jamie takes on her new role as ‘Steve’ and inadvertently attracts the affections of straight co-star Jill (Tiffany Anne Carrin). In an ironic twist, Jamie finds herself unintentionally entering into a ‘straight’ relationship when she begins dating Jill who is unaware of Jamie’s real gender.

Director/producer/writer/star Michelle Ehlen brings to the screen a witty and satirical look at gender roles, stereotypes, and assumptions. ‘Butch Jamie’ is a wonderfully fun and upbeat film that will keep you laughing all the way through.

The multi-talented Michelle Ehlen is incredibly comical as Jamie, unwittingly caught in a web of deception. Olivia Nix is hilarious as Jamie’s roommate Lola and owner of ‘superstar’ cat actor ‘Howard’.



by: Chris Alderson
Author of the 2012 Lesbian Film Guide – Covering over 300 lesbian themed films from around the globe, the 2012 Lesbian Film Guide provides a comprehensive guide to lesbian movies from the 1950s to present day.

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