A day off, the first in a while is marked with a freshly made bed and an open computer turned to Netflix. As I search for a film for the moment, I run across my favorite selection…The Queer films. As a black, queer womxn who is also an artist, I always want to see more of myself reflected in the artistry that I enjoy watching. That being said, I often need to make the decision between watching black folk or queers on screen and rarely do I get to watch both in the same frame. Representation matters. It’s one of those things that Hollywood wishes to deny so that it can stay white and heterosexual, but in reality, diversity pays in many more ways than one. So here I am, searching through Netflix and all the horrible Queer films that I ‘ve watched, just to see Queers on screen. They are overwhelmingly white, and this is an inaccuracy that I’m constantly fighting in my existence and artistry. After searching for what seems like an hour, I find “La Belle Saison.” *I do give away the storyline, so just beware of spoilers*
This Sunday’s film choice was a French flick, by the name of La Belle Saison (Summertime). The film opens in the summer of 1970 with our main protagonist, Delphine as she works on her family’s farm in a Province of the French countryside. Her family is pressuring her to get married to basically any young man that she can find which she of course spurns (Hello! She’s SO GAY!). Finally, she decides to leave the farm and her family’s homophobia for the city life of Paris, where she meets other young women who are fighting for women’s rights. While there, she meets one of the women most passionate about rights for women, but in a loving relationship with a man, Carole. (Duh duh duh!!) Yes, she falls madly in love with Carole and sooner or later, Carole falls for her. Carole leaves her loving boyfriend, breaking his heart in the process and moves to the countryside with Delphine as her father has had a stroke and now she must run the farm. In the process however, they must live under the guise of “friends” as Delphine refuses to come out to her mother and surrounding environment. So they live a closeted life until finally, it implodes and Carole leaves, brokenhearted and Delphine stays with her family, choosing closeted loneliness to living her life on her own terms. In the very end of the film, Delphine sends Carole a letter, years later. Carole has returned to Paris and is living with a new partner who seems to be out and passionate just as she is. Delphine apologizes for all the pain that she put Carole through, tells her that she has her own farm in the south of France away from her family and that she is learning to live with her life, the best way she knows how.
There’s a moment in the film where the women, mostly straight, who are fighting for women’s rights are stopped by the question of who they are fighting for. The straight women only care about abortion and birth control rights, while the few queer women who fight by their side are dismissed when their issues arise. As all the women are white, they also refuse to fight for those rights of people of color and there is no person of color present to tell them to do otherwise. It’s just as poignant now as I imagine it was in the 70s. White straight women have always put their needs above others with very little care for the fact that those who fight with them also need solidarity. I was appreciative of the blatant truth the white woman filmmaker by the name of Catherine Corsini chose to insert. Overrall, it was a well-made, well-written film. Both women were real, with real bodies, hair rarely perfect, eyes were at times wide and other times tired, their voices deep and natural, their nails were clipped and their kisses were real. The actresses that were chosen for the parts had real bodies, there was no retouching. In a world where bodies are heavily scrutinized, I appreciated the realness with which their lesbianism was shown. I appreciated the presence of real women loving each other as a small element of heteronormativity was wiped away.
But, there were also moments about the film that lead me as a Queer brown woman to really question the representations that us Queers are constantly left with that are supposed to mirror our own lives. How often is it that in a “Queer film”, I get to see queer characters just live? The entire film was set on the tumultousness of “being lesbian”, and not being accepted, being closeted. Is our closetedness the only language that we are afforded in expressing our queerness? Can’t we live and be somewhat at peace with ourselves and our partners? Delphine’s parents had no idea of her queerness, but she had previous lovers, showed zero interest in men and chose to work a farm all day. You’re telling me they had no idea?! I understand that in the setting of the 1970s, it’s important to show some homophobia in accuracy to the time period, but also, in Paris, people were much less intolerant it seemed. The couple was allowed to be openly lesbian without jeers of ignorance.
Now, let’s engage with the character of Carole. She is at first happily in a relationship with a man and then suddenly falls in love with Delphine and is lesbian for the rest of her life. Where’s the exploration of her bisexuality? She is essentially the typical “straight woman” that most lesbians fall for. (By most, I say me and my friends. We’ve all fallen for a straight girl at one point in our lives.) My question is why? As humans are multi-dimensional and there was such room and opportunity to explore, how did this beautiful film with such potential, fall right back into the tropes that most queer films fall into?
I want to see women who are queer and loving each other. I want to see us break down tropes of heteronormativity, mononormativity and other restrictions that society and the world at large seems all too happy to throw upon our lives. Lately, I find myself exhausted by representation that is supposed to rejuvenate me. Yes, the film had some truly beautiful moments, but still lacked a certain sense of freedom in all rights for all women. Even in the end of the film, Carole is still working for abortion & birth control rights and when asked why she doesn’t use birth control, she says that she sleeps with women. Where’s the movement for Queer women? Are we always relegated to the side show? When are we our own leading ladies that live lives that are full amid tumultous existence? Maybe the point is to dissect just what it means to be full and queer.