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SIFF Review: Women Who Love Women – Conversations in Singapore

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Amongst the 14 feature-length films and the four shorts screened at the first ever Singapore Panorama section at Sinema Old School during SIFF, there was one documentary about the lives and times of lesbians in Singapore. The film is Women Who Love Women: Conversations in Singapore by Lim Mayling.

wlw-poster.jpgThe five sell-out screenings proved the point that there is a need for the candidness the title suggests – let’s talk straight about being queer. Indeed, it is the totally uncompromised approach of having three women basically tell their personal life stories to the camera and sharing their thoughts and experiences openly which make the film work and worth watching.

You enter a conversation with three young women, Sabrina, Amanda and Gea Swee, who let you in on the stories of how they discovered their love for women and how they established themselves in their otherness – which turns out to be pretty normal after all. In my opinion, that is the most refreshing and encouraging aspect of the film: to witness a degree of clarity and self-assuredness that is authentic and ready to tell. The real revelation is in showing once more how the homosexual experience (in coming out especially) is a journey on a path of liberation, self-discovery and universal character building. At the base of this wholly personal pursuit is the belief that human nature will express itself, and most truthfully when not coerced into something which it is not, the mandatory blending in with the norm – and this is again, a joining find.

lesbian1.jpgThe level of engagement that is apparent in most of the film’s 65 minutes of footage is nothing short of impressive, with the un-staged presence of “real” people who have something to say about themselves which is not exhibitionist or vain. The interview atmosphere and the achievement of getting to the heart of the matter betray a technique of empathy and identification on the part of the interviewer and director Mayling, which is expert as much as it is psychologically profound and frank.

Because it is nothing but talk, the film is as simple – there is no revealing glimpses into some alien life, even the questions are not heard but very naturally retreat into the matrix setting of a forum provided for the sake of having this as honestly and open an account as possible. There is no finesse and little refinement in this documentary, and this is its greatest strength.

So, you will get to know them, these three, through the straightforward arrangement and their willingness to talk with a refreshingly uninhibited way of addressing the issue of what it means to be a homosexual in Singapore; and it is truly disarming.

lesbian2.jpgAnd why not? It can be so easy, and it should be – there is nothing wrong with being gay or lesbian, we know this of course, but the social stigma is around and persists. You will encounter this as well in the film, not so much verbally, as by way of a striking absence of the protagonists’ lovers and family. It was part of the original idea to include them, but in the end this testifies to the fact that for all the frankness of these one-on-one conversations, it remains a closed-room topic, an uneasy topic with wider ramifications.

This is why the camera provides a crucial opening – the confiding in film and putting a positive message of affirmed lives of lesbian women on screen – it is a pioneering task. Obviously it is important and there is a need to address the issue and make it a case that although discrimination may be subtle these days, it does not make it any less disrespectful or wrong.

lesbian3.jpgUpon reading this review, you’ll probably notice how any discussion of Women Who Love Women becomes a discussion of the very theme it is about, and in any documentary of such kind, this has to be reckoned as an achievement. Therefore – do not take it as anything other than a political statement. There is a case being made here that is very much needed, and just at a time when MDA handled incoming complaints about a commercial by dealing out a fine for the depiction of two women kissing, “as if it was appropriate” to do so.

Any more questions, anyone?

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