Best LGBT+ International Films, Around the World
This year has been a strange one. Australia was on fire, then the UK left the EU, then World War Three looked impending, then Covid cam, Cummings-gate, killer hornets, and then came the final straw. Our Black brothers and sisters said enough is enough to the institutional racism, and stood up to it. We are now in Pride Month, and given the current Black Lives Matter movement and Pride, it’s important to remember that it was a Black trans-woman who stood up and started the Stonewall riots that eventually lead to Pride. The LGBT society and Black people are linked in a history of oppression.
Now more than ever, we need to remember that we are all connected; different cultures, races, sexualities, we’re all part of one planet. To mark Pride, we at No Majesty want to take a moment to salute some films from around the world that show the struggles, and the joys, of the LGBT community. These may be dark and difficult times, filled with hate and anger, and there’s no shame in needing a rest from it. If you need to, take some time to yourself, with your loved ones, and enjoy a taste of a different country and of the LGBT+ community. We stand with you, we support you.
Joe + Bell
Veronica Kedar 2011 (Israel)
A rom-com about a drug dealer and a psychopath with suicidal tendencies might not seem like something that would A) be suitable for production in Israel or B) fertile ground for something enjoyable and yet this lesbian-centric story is very funny, and also has a kind of punk rock sensibility that makes you enjoy it’s no holds barred style. Veronica Kedar is Joe, and Sivan Levy is Belle, and the chemistry they illicit is palpable. It’s little known, but really enjoyable.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Celine Sciamma 2019 (France)
Possibly the biggest snub of the last awards season this moving story of a painter and an aristocrat that fall in love in 18th Century France is told with beauty, and with a slow broiling passion. It’s a film that sucks you in and holds your attention until the very end and is pretty much THE film of 2019. It is a work of art and the performances of Noemie Merlant and Adele Haenel along with Sciamma’s spot on direction make for an intoxicating mix.
Lost and Delirious
Lea Pool 2001 (Canada)
Though admirable this sometimes silly drama works because of the performances from Piper Perabo, Jessica Pare and Mischa Barton. The film itself is a little confused as to what it wants to be verging from coming of age / coming out story to over the top melodrama. But at all times the images conjured by director Pool and the performances keep this film often intriguing and at times moving.
Liz en Septiembre
Fina Torres 2014 (Venezuela)
Marketed as the first Spanish language lesbian film, this romantic drama adapts American play Last Summer at Bluefish Cove but adds importance for it’s look at Latinx. Patricia Velasquez is perfectly cast in the lead role and the film’s look at an older LGBT member gives it some gravity to, which is helped by the directorial hand of a woman who looks for nuance at all times.
Park Chan-Wook 2016 (South Korea)
When Park Chan-wook makes a movie you know the stuff is hitting the fan. Taking the novel Fingersmith by Sarah Waters and changing it from Victorian era Britain to Korea under Japanese colonial rule this erotic psycho-thriller is heavy of everything you could think. Gorgeous to look at the Oldboy director brings his painterly eye to the story and doesn’t let up. He’s helped by Kim Min-hee and Kim Tae-ri’s committed performances, sadly the fairly obvious male gaze in the sexual scenes feels trite and a little exploitative.
The World Unseen
Shamim Sarif 2007 (South Africa)
This historical drama takes a look at two Indian South African women as they fall in love in Cape Town just as apartheid begins. The look at racism, sexism and homophobia is pointed but it’s really in the central duo that the film finds it’s feet, noting that apartheid was a blot against all races that weren’t white and that it remains a disgusting element of history. Director Shamim Sarif and her two stars Lisa Ray and Sheetal Sheth would team up a year later for the British-set LGBT romantic drama I Can’t Think Straight.
Yes or No
Saraswandee Wongsompetch 2010 (Thailand)
Known as being the first romantic comedy in Thailand with a “butch” lesbian character, the stars Sucharat Manaying and Suppanad Jitteleela ooze charisma and chemistry as the film plays to the strengths of the their talents as well as being lighthearted and somewhat fluffy. There is drama there, but it’s underlined by a streak of joy that is infectious at all times. It being available on Netflix should make it required viewing for anyone with even a passing interest in LGBT cinema.
Ben A. Williams 2016 (UK)
Based on a play by John Donnelly, this film shows it’s staging roots at times but is elevated above it’s trappings by two compelling performances by Russell Tovey and Arinze Kene. Adressing an issue that is more than a little timely, homosexuality’s place in football, the story is intimate drawing you in to the story of two ,men trying to make sense of one moment in their lives that affected everything.
Zero Chou 2007 (Taiwan)
Unsuitable for people who tend to want tattoos at the drop of a hat this drama about two women who find and fall for each other is an interesting look at online relationships and how they can be deeper than we realise. It’s sensitive, and twisty, but the central conceit of two people connecting over ink is an interesting one, and helps the metaphor for beauty outwards reflecting inwards. You will want a tattoo by the end of it though.
Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga
Shelly Chopra Dhar 2019 (India)
Taking vague inspiration from the P.G. Wodehouse novel A Damsel in Distress, this coming of age story has something going for it in it’s look at Indian manners and relationships. The humour is strong, and it has the feel of something that could be huge with the same crowd that loved East is East or even The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. There is a thread of humour stemming from the conservatives of Punjabi culture but it’s never mean spirited, in fact it has a great warmth to it.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post
Desiree Akhavan 2018 (USA)
Conversion therapy is a disgusting thing, attempting to torture the gay out of someone should never be seen as an option and considering the Vice President of the United States believes it’s viable means this film is all the more important. Akhavan’s drama sees a career best Chloe Grace Moretz, as well as sublime support from Sasha Lane and Forrest Goodluck, this searing drama takes a no-nonsense look at what kind of cruelty is burned into people who do this to LGBT+ people. If you’re not furious by the end, you’re not watching closely enough.
Pedro Almodovar 2004 (Spain)
No LGBT+ cinema list would be complete without at least one Almodovar movie. Almodovar’s ability to juggle light comedy and heavy drama is often overlooked but with a central turn from Gael Garcia Bernal, Bad Education ranks as one of the director’s best thanks in no small part to his incredible ability to deal with sexuality, abuse and vice with frank look but never judging and never condemning. He may have more popular films, ones that are more lauded, but Bad Education is a searing work from a seasoned pro that feels like the work of a newcomer.
Jean Marc-Vallee 2005 (Canada)
Before gaining plaudits for The Young Victoria, Dallad Buyers Club, Wild, Demolition as well as two lauded TV series in Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies, Valle made this Quebecois drama has a great duke box soundtrack. The story behind it, being co-written with his wife and taking inspiration from her upbringing is a great way of dealing with homosexuality and the old fashioned views that were once held. Not to mention that Marc-Andre Grondin gives a compelling central performance.
Scud 2009 (Hong Kong)
Hong Kong filmmaker Scud is a fantastic voice in both Asian cinema and Queer cinema. His second feature was controversial for dealing with the “taboo” subject of homosexuality as well as featuring full frontal male nudity. Somewhat biographically inspired, the film deals with the touchy issue of friendship between gay and straight men, and how the dynamic can be affected.
Barry Jenkins 2016 (USA)
There is pretty much nothing that can be said about Barry Jenkins’ Best Picture winning adaptation of Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play that would not be a parroting of other people. Soulful, moving, incredible are easy to use words but it goes beyond significance, and the three part narrative, and simply wraps you in its spell thanks to committed performances – one of the first great appearances from Mahershala Ali – and sensitive direction. A landmark of modern American filmmaking.
Read more: Moonlight review – a beautifully observed film about race and sexual identity
The Wedding Banquet
Ang Lee 1993 (Taiwan)
Lee’s at times farcical rom-com about a gay Taiwanese man who marries a Chinese woman for a green card only to find his parents coming to his home in the US to plan his wedding banquet is the stuff LGBT+ cinema needs. A comedy of errors mixed with some biting comments of truth, values and family is as entertaining as it is pointed, and remains of of Lee’s best films in a career full of them.
Lee would go on to direct the lauded Brokeback Mountain to a Best Director win and Best Picture nomination, but his smaller, more forgotten rom-com remains a must-see for fans of his work, and for culture clash comedy fans.
Bungee Jumping of Their Own
Kim Dae-seung 2001 (South Korea)
Metaphysical drama in which a man must come to terms with reincarnation making him fall in love with the soul of a woman in a man’s body sounds a little weird and confusing, but thanks to a committed emotional performance by Lee Byung-hun keeps the film going when things become more interested in something more soulful than romantic.
House of Boys
Jean-Claude Schlimm 2009 (Luxembourg)
Dealing with the serious problem of AIDs in the 1980s, and featuring a supporting turd for master of weird Udo Kier, this drama sees the over the top excess of young life that can be derailed. The looming threat of HIV and AIDs lends weight to the film and despite the slow start the second half of the film grows to something deeper and more meaningful.
Scud 2010 (Hong Kong)
Using the 2009 financial collapse as a jumping off point for drama and the unfolding issues that people were thrown into, this romantic drama between a fitness trainer and a business executive proves to be an intense and wired story. The intense elements, including rape and scenes of full frontal nudity might be intense for others but the story is timely even after ten years and continues to show that Scud is a director of great bravery and emotion.
Peter Jackson 1994 (New Zealand)
Jackson’s masterwork is not about battling fantasy creatures over jewewllery, nor a giant ape with the hots for an actress, nor even about zombies getting their heads sliced off. No, the masterwork of Jackson’s career is his true story drama in which Melanie Lynskey and Kate Winslet play two girls who form a relationship that ultimately transcends sexuality into something much more meaningful, and that things take a darker turn. Powerful but all too often forgotten this remains his best work.
Professor Marston and the Wonder Woman
Angela Robinson 2017 (USA)
The story of how Wonder Woman came to be revolves around Professor William M. Marston, a teacher and researcher at Harvard and Radcliffe, who along with his wife Elizabeth began to work on the polygraph test. His interest in sexuality leads both to invite Olive Byrne an assistant into their lives where the three live in a fully polyamorous relationship. As it charts the origins of Marston coming up with Wonder Woman – his interest in bondage, the truth and the power of women are all clear – the film has a lightness of touch. Luke Evans, Rebecca Hall and Bella Heathcote are all perfect in their roles and as the origin of a much loved character it provides insight, and heart.
Tom Tykwer 2010 (Germany)
In popular culture polyamory is much misunderstood, the concept of open relationships and open marriages baffles people with more conservative views. Tykwer’s drama shows the complexity and the emotion that can come from it with a married couple and the third person they invite into that situation. It is neither cynical, nor saccharine in it’s treatment, but entirely human and open minded. For a form of relationship that isn’t often portrayed, let alone well, it is a must see.
A Fantastic Woman
Sebastian Lelio 2017 (Chile)
Star Daniela Vega broke down boundaries when she became the first Trans-woman to present as Oscar, that opportunity came from her turn in the Oscar winning drama. The lack of nomination for Vega is criminal as she absolutely holds the film as the story of a trans-woman’s life falling apart after the death of her partner is in turns blood boiling, moving and incredibly well acted. It also stands as a monument to inclusive cinema making things better.
Better Than Chocolate
Anne Wheeler 1999 (Canada)
Though unfortunately featuring Peter Outerbridge in “trans-face” this story is one of subtlty and intense romanticism where a woman must hide her sexuality from her mother and brother when they move into her house despite having a new relationship that is introducing her to new experiences.
Sean Baker 2015 (USA)
Sean Baker’s breakout film as a director and writer, this slice-of-life style drama proves on thing – there is no excuse not to cast trans-people in trans roles. Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor are both trans and helped shape the film. The drama about drugs, transphobia and sex work is one that wraps you in its spell and doesn’t let go. If you’re looking for something truly singular, this work has the feel of a Ken Loach film but a painterly eye, and two performances for the ages.
Yan Yan Mak 2004 (Hong Kong)
The story of a married teacher who is actually a lesbian, and the free-spirit she falls for is a moving look at human beings. There isn’t anything overly dramatic in the film even Flavia’s husband Ming is shown to be a decent and kind spirited person. The film explores the issues in the society, and the homophobia inherent in it. A supporting role from Kenneth Tsang also helps to add gravity to some of the story when it deals with familial issues.
Sebastian Lelio 2017 (UK)
Lelio’s co-scripted adaptation of the Naomi Alderman novel is a lowkey but utterly gripping story. Telling the story of a closeted lesbian and a bisexual woman who reunite in their British Jewish community when one of their father’s – a rabbi – dies, Disobedience is low of big moments of action but filled with stirring emotion and some of the best on screen portrayals of forbidden love in recent times. Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams are magnetic on screen and Alessandro Nivola is the best he’s ever been.