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Lesbian Movie Reviews: Died / Recanted / Unhappy/ Came out - Cynara: Poetry in Motion

Sunday, October 16, 2016 - 08:00

I’m re-posting (sometimes in expanded form) a series of reviews of lesbian-themed movies that I originally drew up in answer to a request for recommendations of "good movies involving lesbian romances that don't end up with the protagonists deeply unhappy, dead, or both." To this set of criteria I’ve added the question, “Is the story primarily about coming out?” This set of index questions will necessarily involve some spoilers, but since I'm not reviewing any current releases, I think the statute of limitations has expired.

Many of these items are not currently in print. I'll link each to their entry for reference. But for those currently available, Wolfe Video is the go-to distributor for lgbt movies.

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Given the original premise of this series of lesbian movie reviews (no death, no recanting, not just a coming-out story) I'm slowly working my way from the positive end of the scale toward the movies that hit fewer of the targets. (I'm jumping around a bit in the groupings, but still working generally in that direction.)

Today's offering falls under "No death, no recanting, but a fair amount of coming out." It's relatively short (40 minutes) and I doubt it ever played in anything but film festivals. I think I first spotted it on the VCR shelf at a long-closed women's bookstore. The costume drama aspect would have caught my eye even if the unusual name hadn't. I have a friend named Cynara, which is an incredibly unusual name. The only other pop culture reference I'm aware of for the name is in a work by Victorian poet Ernest Dowson, which has the refrain "I have been faithful to thee, Cynara, in my own fashion." The same poem also gave Margaret Mitchell the phrase that became the title of Gone with the Wind. Dowson also seems to have coined the phrase "days of wine and roses" in a different poem. Since Dowson's Cynara was published around the era when this film is set, I suspect there may be a deliberate reference of some sort.

Cynara: Poetry in Motion (1996) The film is a period piece set in late 19th century England. It's artsy and atmospheric but a bit thin on plot (and occasionally, intelligibility). Sculpter Cynara meets Parisian expatriate (female) writer Byron (a name that suggests a certain beating the viewer over the head with symbolism, or at least lack of imagination) on the beach. Much misty sensuality ensues. I honestly confess I don't recall whether they're still together at the end. It was all very vague and dream-like. On-line reviews call it "Harlequin romance for lesbians" which suggests a happy-ever-after, but also suggests that my recollection of vague misty sensuality may be all there was. Certainly nobody dies. Not a traditional "coming out" story either. But it's very much in the realm of cotton candy rather than steak. It's a solid addition to my collection of lesbian costume drama and makes a nice balance in tone for many of the other works in that collection.

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I've been tending to use the lesbian movie reviews to fill in when I don't have a current book, movie, or play to post. Just to give people a taste of what I'll eventually be covering, the items that I have already written up in some form (but haven't covered yet) are:

  • Fingersmith (2005, mini-series)
  • Bar Girls (1995)
  • Mädchen in Uniform (1931, b&w, German, subtitled)
  • Aimée & Jaguar (1998)
  • Kissing Jessica Stein (2001)
  • Portrait of a Marriage (1990, mini-series)

Movies on the list to include (i.e., I own them) but not yet written up include:

  • Antonia's Line
  • Bound
  • But I'm a Cheerleader
  • Daphne: The Secret Love Life of Daphne du Maurier
  • Entre Nous
  • Fire
  • Forbidden Love: The Unashamed Stories of Lesbian Lives (documentary)
  • French Twist
  • Go Fish
  • I Can't Think Straight
  • Lost and Delerious
  • Mädchen in Uniform (1958, color, German, subtitled)
  • Purple Sea
  • The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister

It's something of an eclectic list, based on things that I either ran across by chance, or that hit my interests enough to track down. The latter are far more likely to be period pieces of some sort than contemporary stories. But if there's a title you think I should add, feel free to recommend it! Particularly if it fits some of the original criteria of "no death, no recanting, not focused on coming out."