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Holigay Gift Guide: 10 Rare Lesbian Movies To Buy for the Queer Cinephile Who Has Seen Everything

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Holigays 2022 // Header by Viv Le

My DVD collection is older than my closest friendships. As a kid, DVDs and then Blu-Rays were pretty much all I ever asked to receive as gifts. Birthdays, Hannukahs, whenever my mom was in a good mood and we were at Target — from big chains to artsy video stores, I’ve spent decades seeking out the cinema I wanted to see most.

In the age of streaming, it may seem like physical media is the way of the past. But streaming options are very limited, and while some gaps can be filled if you’re crafty enough, a lot of online bootlegs are low quality or not available at all.

Scroll through the all time lesbian movie list and you’ll quickly realize that many of the films are labeled “unavailable.” That’s where this gift guide is here to help. Unavailable means unavailable to stream — not necessarily unavailable completely. So whether you’re getting yourself a holiday present or searching for that special cinephile in your life here are ten DVDs or Blu-Rays to add to your list.


10. House of Psychotic Women Rarities Collection (Blu-Ray)

A figure with a long red nose, bald head, and scary makeup holds dentures in The Other Side of the Underneath

Jane Arden’s unique masterpiece The Other Side of the Underneath was recently named by Kayla and I to have the scariest queer movie moment of all time. While the film is still streaming on Shudder, the extended workprint version is only available in this box set. And considering the limits of streaming deals, I’d never trust any movie only available on one site to be online for more than a few months. Not only do you get Arden’s film and its extended cut in this box — you also get several other works highlighted in Kier-La Janisse’s seminal book. This is a must have for any queer horror lover and all psychotic women.

9. Make a Wish (2002)

A woman with short brain hair is in a sleeping bag in a tent that appears to be caving in. She looks up in fright.

Speaking of horror, there are only three copies of Sharon Ferranti’s lesbian slasher left on Amazon. I’m pretty sure Kayla bought the fifth and I bought the fourth. Generally, I do not support Amazon dot com but I made an exception for this because a slasher movie about a lesbian gathering her exes for a camping trip could not be missed. Initially released by Wolfe Video, this disc comes with a commentary track featuring Ferranti. It’s a fun, low-budget romp that twenty years later has found no equals in the mainstream. Read Kayla’s full piece about it!

UPDATE: No need to shop on Amazon! This is back on the Wolfe Video website!

8. Therese and Isabelle (1968)

A black and white image of two women leaning their heads against each other.

Violette Leduc’s lesbian schoolgirl literary classic has finally received a new release in print. But the movie adaptation it inspired is still hard to find. Some have criticized exploitation director Radley Metzger’s take on the work, but I’d argue it’s still a worthwhile watch even if it lacks Leduc’s perspective. There is plenty of room in the canon of lesbian cinema for sleazy art and I wouldn’t even be so quick to write this off as just sleaze. There is still a poetry to it — even in the sex scenes. Especially when placed in the context of the 1960s, this film earns its place in the canon while still holding pleasures for an adventurous modern viewer.

7. Girl with Hyacinths (1950)

A blonde woman looks down and a brunette looks at her while smoking a cigarette. The image is Black and White and they're shrouded in shadows.

Early lesbian cinema may have been marred by tragic death, but this very early Swedish classic does it with a unique twist. The entire film centers around an investigation into a queer woman’s suicide and while this may seem dour, the knowledge from the beginning saves the usual cruel shock. Instead it allows for a film that really explores this woman as a human being and reveals a far more complicated life than most on-screen lesbian suicides that seem to exist just to satisfy the morals of the time. Ingmar Bergman himself considered this a masterpiece and I agree!

6. The Daughters of Fire (2018)

Three women have sex. One women is behind another pulling her hair back as a third looks down in front.

Many of the films on this list were lost to time, but even our contemporary art is still kept from us. I saw this artful, feminist, queer, trans exploration of sex and pornography at Outfest in 2019 but except for a brief run on MUBI, it never got a formal release. A lot of queer films I see at festivals don’t get the releases they deserve, but most end up streaming somewhere in a few years. Not this one! I’m sure it’s graphic sexuality is part of the reason, its commitment to showing a sexuality that’s entirely queer and inclusive to a wide variety of bodies is likely another. Luckily there’s a region free DVD out there you can track down or order!

5. Memento Mori (1999)

A teenage girl in a white school uniform reads a red journal while other girls write behind her.

One more for the horror gays! This masterpiece entry of the Whispering Corridors series is actually worth watching for gays who love ghosts and gays who don’t. It’s less straightforward horror and more a meditation on grief, first love, and those first steps out of the closet. It’s a beautiful film and a personal fave of mine. It’s like a supernatural, less campy version of Lost and Delirious! So if all this sounds appealing to you — or the cinephile in your life — this one is more than worth tracking down on eBay. Also I wrote an essay about it a few years back if you need more convincing.

4. Set Me Free (1999)

A teen girl lies in bed next to a boy and girl cuddling.

While we’re on the topic of Lost and Delirious, did you know its director Léa Pool is a lesbian who has a whole filmography of lesbian storytelling? And while this Quebecois icon may have lost you with her heavy-handed English language debut, her actual debut is a coming-of-age queer classic. Following a teen girl with a challenging home life, a crush on the same girl as her brother, another crush on her teacher, and yet another crush on French actress Anna Karina, Pool’s understated tale reveals itself to be the origin story of a queer filmmaker. It’s a beautiful film that used to be on the Criterion Channel but now is nowhere to be found — except on OOP DVDs!

3. Entre Nous (1983) (Blu-Ray)

Miou-Miou and Isabelle Huppert sit across from a table playing cars. Huppert is looking down holding a card. Miou-Miou is holding a cigarette and looking at Huppert.

This list mostly consists of rare, used DVDs but this is the exception. Diane Kurys’ French lesbian classic was recently restored and is finally getting a proper release from Cohen Media. Starring Isabelle Huppert and Miou-Miou, this tale of two unhappily married women during WWII who find love with one another is as austere as that premise suggests. You’re either into that kind of lesbian period piece or you’re not — if you are then this is the release of the season. Cheap DVDs will do if that’s all we can get, but proper releases like this one should always be the goal — and expectation! — for our cinema.

2. Manji (1964)

A clothed woman looks up at the body of a nude woman.

Evidence that if you live in a major city, or any city with a good video store, you can sometimes find the best movies offline. I got my copy of this twisted Japanese classic by rummaging through the LGBTQ section at Amoeba Music in Hollywood! It’s noteworthy because any explicitly queer movie from 1964 would be noteworthy but it’s also really good! It makes the American erotic thrillers of the 80s and 90s feel like innocent bores with its shocking psychosexual turns. I also wrote an essay about this one if you want to read more

1. Show Me Love (Fucking Åmål) (1999)

Two teen girls kiss

Ah the holy grail of lesbian movies. I don’t know why this popular Swedish movie from popular Swedish director Lukas Moodyson is still largely unavailable. Maybe it’s due to rights issues for the soundtrack. I do believe we will see a proper release of this film at some point, but that could take years! So if your purse is deep or your wallet is fat you can get a copy for seventy dollars. Equal parts sweet and sour, there’s a reason why just about everyone who saw this film two decades ago or has managed to find it since feels so warmly about it. Just don’t be tempted by the cheaper options on Amazon because those either don’t have English subtitles or are region coded for somewhere else. Unless, of course, you live in a country other than the US or Canada or speak Swedish, in which case lucky you!

UPDATE: Incredible news! Show Me Love will be included in a limited edition Blu-Ray box set of Lukas Moodysson films coming soon from Arrow.


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Drew Burnett Gregory

Drew is an LA-based writer, filmmaker, and theatremaker. Her writing can be found at Bright Wall/Dark Room, Cosmopolitan UK, Thrillist, I Heart Female Directors, and, of course, Autostraddle. She is currently working on a million film and TV projects mostly about trans lesbians. Find her on Twitter and Instagram @draw_gregory.

Drew Burnett has written 331 articles for us.

7 Comments

  1. Love that you chose “Therese and Isabelle.” Critics dismissed it as soap operaish and trashy. Plus, Radley Metzger specialized in soft porn, so the male gaze criticism was hurled at him too. But I find it extremely tender and romantic, but, with, unfortunately, the usual ending. Also “Entre Nous” (AKA “Coup de Foudre”) is exquisite. The ending is a delightful surprise and director Diane Kurys specialized in telling her family story in several features, including the absolutely Truffaut-like “Peppermint Soda.”

  2. Not into horror at all but your non horror inclusions here are on point! I was lucky enough to nab a copy of Show Me Love way back when and I treasure my copy today, it holds up remarkably well. My main addition to your list would be “All Over Me” – hard to find these days but worth it if you stumble across it.

  3. I love this! I treasure physical media in the streaming era – streaming is very convenient but I like knowing that my favourites can’t disappear on a whim of a big corporation. Also I always appreciate media articles that don’t focus on commercial/mainstream stuff. :)

  4. Nice list. Would like to put in a plug for the 1935 Japanese flick with the great name, The Scent of Pheasant’s Eye: An Episode from the Tales of Flowers. The story: a girl of about 19 enters into an arranged marriage and finds herself developing a romantic friendship with her new sister-in-law, who’s a couple years younger and still at school. It’s more of a fascinating piece of history than a great piece of cinema but it’s well worth seeing.

    There’s also an obscure 2009 French flick called The Evening Dress that I like a lot: it’s about a shy 12-year-old tomboy with a giant crush on her elegant 50-something literature teacher, and what I like most about it is that it shows the teacher realising that, while she’s done nothing physically inappropriate, she may have harmed some of her pupils by encouraging their adulation and doling out special treatment.

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