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Intimate and abstract, 'The Girl' opens at the Loft today

By Graig Uhlin

Friday September 7, 2001

Co-written by UA prof Monique Witting, the film explores a lesbian relationship in Paris

Images of lesbians are largely nonexistent in mainstream media, and when they do appear, it's usually in the form of the butch-dyke stereotype or the lipstick version of straight male porn.

And even in light of recent strides made in the growingly frequent representations of gay men, lesbians have been left behind. Can anyone name one besides Ellen Degeneres? And don't say Anne Heche, because she's getting married.

It seems, unfortunately, that at least by Hollywood's standards, lesbianism is still the love that dare not speak its name, caught in the double bind of stereotyped-when-visible and invisible all times else. Maybe that's why one of the most fascinating and stunning cinematic portrayals of lesbian relationships - director Sande Zeig's "The Girl," co-written by University of Arizona French professor Monique Wittig - comes from outside of Tinseltown.

Based on a short story by Wittig, the film tells the story of a lesbian painter (Agatha De La Boulaye) who gets involved with a nightclub singer whom she calls "The Girl" (Claire Keim). The strength of the relationship is tested by a fierce man who owns the club and everyone in it, because he sees the romance as an encroachment on his property (i.e. The Girl). The film purposely resists narrative linearity - its scenes harbor a meditative and poetic quality, making a concise plot summary difficult and reductionist.

Zeig continuously moves the film toward abstraction. Narrative linearity must be inferred by the audience. Scenes evoke a striking intimacy with their warm tones and the camera's loving treatment of its subjects - it is a film of close-ups. The location, while it is identified as Paris, betrays no landmarks of that famous city, giving each setting a timelessness. Even the main characters are not given names, only titles such as "The Girl" and "Lover" (the painter). The film ironically bestows upon itself an omnipresence, even though stories like this are rarely told, and even more rarely heard.

Perhaps most striking of all is that "The Girl" is not a film that straight men may enjoy. Certainly, an open-minded viewer can find the narrative and the film's beautiful cinematography appealing, but the film articulates a decidedly lesbian point of view. This is not "Bound." The love scenes are not intended for straight male consumption. Rather, the film develops its narrative around a marginalized perspective - that of a homosexual relationship in a heterosexual world - where what is normal to the majority becomes "queer" to this sexual minority. The abstracted locales reflect the lovers' alienation in this threatening and foreign world, from which they cannot escape. The straight world surrounds them. This film gives voice to those who in the mainstream are denied voice.

"The Girl" finds power in the relationships women can form with one another and sees powerlessness in the compulsory heterosexuality of this male-centered world. It even goes so far as not to give dialogue to any man in the film who poses a threat to the lovers' relationship - they are powerless as they are rendered silent.

With its beautiful imagery and poetic tone, "The Girl" is a remarkable film, and it articulates a point of view too rarely seen. It opens today at The Loft Cinema, 3233 E. Speedway Blvd.


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