Berlin Feminist Film Week 2017 Review: Below Her Mouth
Directed by April Mullen and based on Stephanie Fabrizi’s screenplay, Below Her Mouth was made with an all-female crew on set. Not since Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux’s steamy scenes in Blue is the Warmest Color (La vie d'Adèle) has lesbian cinema revealed such intense and erotic scenes, albeit from a male perspective. If watching Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara’s mild sex scenes in Carol made you blush, then you might want to reconsider how comfortable you would be with the emotionally-charged passion on display in the Canadian film Below Her Mouth. It makes one question whether the actresses were simulating their many sex scenes.
Erika Linder, an androgynous Swedish supermodel, took the industry by storm when she took on fashion campaigns as the male lead. It was surprising to find out that this was Linder’s first acting role because her masculine and honest portrayal of Dallas, a roofer with commitment issues, really makes this story feel authentic. Jasmine (Natalie Krill) is a fashion editor who cozies up to Dallas when her subdued fiancé Rile (Sebastian Pigott) is out of town. The two lead actresses’ undeniable chemistry is electric. While the dialogue is on the sparse side and occasionally too sentimental, it’s a film whose emotional honesty leaves a lasting impression. The clichés associated with Rile are sometimes unnecessary and could have been handled differently, especially the later scenes. An emotional breakup scene reveals Krill’s acting chops while Linder’s reactions appear somewhat less emotionally present.
This provocative film, where the only male character of any substance is Jasmine’s fiancé, is a welcome breath of fresh air in the film industry where the male gaze too often provides unnatural female caricatures and relationships. Although some viewers might have trouble relating to this female-centric storyline, these same (male) viewers will likely enjoy the extreme physicality of the sex scenes. While this is clearly a lesbian love story, it would be great to see it reach a more mainstream audience because love-at-first-sight storylines are universal. Those who have been whisked away by a spontaneous one-night stand or forbidden love affair are not the only ones who can appreciate Dallas and Jasmine’s romance.
Maya Bankovic’s stunning cinematography and use of natural lighting to delicately shoot the night scenes is impressive. The red lighting, most notably in the lesbian club and in Dallas’s apartment set a certain consistent tone. This film is beautifully shot – highlighting the main characters’ lust, romance and love with a gorgeous color palate. A later scene with Dallas out in the sunshine wearing a bright blue top stands out as a possible turning point for her, representing a more relaxed and comfortable state of mind.
The score composed by Noia is ethereal and contemplative, yet in other moments more upbeat and fast-paced. One scene when Jasmine and Dallas are at a bar the music suddenly heightens in pitch just as one of them storms out and gradually intensifies during the alleyway encounter. The music and editing complement each other quite well throughout the entirety of the film.
April Mullen’s experience as an actress turned director is noticeable in her casting choices and the way she intimately directs Linder and Krill. Her decision to cast the inexperienced actress Erika Linder was a bold one. Linder evokes a mix between Kristen Stewart and Katherine Moennig’s character from The L Word but still manages to make Dallas her own. Below Her Mouth’s graphic sex scenes might be a shock to the system, but they are balanced out nicely through Mullen’s careful direction.
Stars: 4.5 out of 5
Genre: Erotic romance/drama
Cast: Erika Linder, Natalie Krill, Mayko Nguyen, Sebastian Pigott
Director: April Mullen
Writer: Stephanie Fabrizi
Rating: Triple F
Running Time: 94 Minutes
Production Company: Serendipity Point Films
Release Date: 13 April 2017
by Lindsay Bellinger