For all the films about lesbian lovers to have been slapped with the "male gaze" label, you'd think such a film made entirely by women would receive some praise. But 2016's Below Her Mouth was largely condemned by critics as "pornographic fantasy". To be fair, that's clearly what the film sets out to be, and at that, it does a terrific job. If you are physically attracted to women, you will love this movie.
Over twenty years ago now, Stanley Kubrick set out to make Eyes Wide Shut partly because he found the filmmaking quality of porn to be generally terrible. I love Eyes Wide Shut but I don't find it especially titillating. It's got too much of what Kubrick is justly renowned for, a narrative coldness. Below Her Mouth doesn't strive to present an intellectually provoking or complex tale along the lines of Kubrick's final film, instead relying on cliches for its premise--a beautiful, wealthy woman (Natalie Krill) discovers she's a lesbian when she falls for a roofer (Erika Linder). They have lots of sex. It might as well be the "Log Jammin'" porn parody from The Big Lebowski, minus the log.
But instead of the sex serving a story, really, the story here is to serve the sex. Jasmine's (Krill) anxiety about her fiance finding out isn't really there for us to worry about how she's handling her life or her future. It's to add tension to the foreplay when Dallas (Linder) puts her hand between Jasmine's legs in a bar and the closeups on Jasmine's face show us how she's battling her own libido. The resistance is entirely to add piquancy.
The setup is cliche, sure, but few pornos could rival the delivery, particularly in terms of cinematography.
Cinematographer Maya Bankovic and director April Mullen paint close range compositions with gorgeous layers of artificial light. The lighting may well be the star of this movie. The actresses are fine, particularly Erika Linder as the improbable Swede turned American construction worker. And both actresses come off as sincere in the lengthy sex sequences but it's the lighting and editing that really captivate.
Why do critics evidently think it's a bad thing for a film to have such motives? I guess in this day and age it's probably a safer opinion. It's a shame because the world would be a better place with more movies like this.
"What, exactly, is below her mouth?" wrote Jude Dry of Indiewire, "Her chin? Her body? Her entire mind and spirit? It's a fittingly ambiguous title for a directionless film." It's funny, no-one had to ask Ella Fitzgerald what she meant when she sang about a man tickling her under her chin. We seem to have lost some cranial capacity in the past sixty years.
Below Her Mouth is available on NetFlix.
Twitter Sonnet #1353
The ticking clock concludes in pink and white.
A candy haze descends on quiet streets.
With sugar dust the spell obscures the sight.
A sober porridge slashed the plot to sheets.
A spinning ribbon cloud obstructs the sky.
Replacing grass, a puking cat advanced.
A field of games constricts the honest try.
In bony minds the marrow people danced.
An amber line creates a skull and neck.
Tomato bloom against the chest was warm.
A mirror gel refracts the glowing wreck.
The turning web of beams revealed a form.
Some icy shots exchanged between the gems.
Some skinny legs dissolve beneath the hems.