“Stroking an Animal” Is a Sensuous Portrait of Polyamory

This review of Stroking an Animal contains mild spoilers.

Stroking an Animal: close up of two women kissing in red light

A man becomes involved with a lesbian couple and tests their relationship. We’ve seen this before. Since early classics like The Fox and The Children’s Hour, it has been a stalwart of “lesbian” storytelling.

But what about the reality of this tired trope? What about a story of two queer women in a relationship who begin sleeping with a man, not because he’s going to rescue one of them from lesbianism, but because they are bisexual and polyamorous? Ángel Filgueira’s new film Stroking an Animal tells that story with a deeply felt eroticism.

We begin with the film’s first underrepresented sexual scenario: lesbian tent sex. Filgueira films actors Lidia Veiga and Ánxela Ríos in tight close-ups establishing the intimacy of characters Mariña and Ada and our intimacy with them as an audience.

Much of the film is shot this way with an attention to detail and framing. Handheld cinematography can sometimes feel tiresome — not here. Every shot, no matter how close, is beautiful and clear.

When the story isn’t being told in close ups or the rare and precise wide, Filgueira uses camcorder footage shot by the characters themselves. The first introduction of this technique is also the introduction of the male interloper Tomás, played by Xulio Besteiro. He seems to be a stranger spying on the women, filming them as they swim naked. But no! It’s not that kind of movie. He’s not some vague male threat — he’s simply another human being, another body, their friend. He jumps in the water and they all swim together, laughing, flirting.

Split into snapshots marked by seasons and diaristic text on-screen, Stroking an Animal takes us through Mariña and Ada’s relationship with and without Tomás. The women first and foremost care about each other. Tomás is just a fun fling. Even when his involvement starts to challenge the relationship, it feels less like Tomás taking over and more like Ada having a different desire for polyamory than Mariña.

Close up of two women looking at each other

A lot of queer couples are non-monogamous, even more dabble in non-monogamy. It’s refreshing to get a film that portrays these experiences without falling into melodrama or abandoning its central couple.

Even during the film’s most dramatic beat, Filgueira holds back. The characters surprise each other and the audience and react in a way that’s very recognizable in real life but often replaced with tired screaming matches on-screen.

This is the kind of movie with a long scene of the characters reading tarot. This is the kind of movie with several great sex scenes despite a short runtime. This is the kind of movie with camcorder footage of dragonflies that recalls the best of Stan Brakhage.

All three actors are grounded in their characters, allowing Filgueira’s lo-fi style to feel real. Lidia Veiga is especially strong in her moments of quiet, offering glimpses into Mariña’s uncertainty about her life, her relationship, and herself.

Bookended by camping trips, Stroking an Animal is an arthouse movie that reflects the messiness of real queer lives. Tender and sexy, joyous and melancholy, this is queer cinema in its purest form.

Stroking an Animal: one woman holds another woman with waves crashing behind them.


Stroking an Animal is now available to rent. 

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Drew Burnett Gregory

Drew is a Brooklyn-based writer, filmmaker, and theatremaker. She is a Senior Editor at Autostraddle with a focus in film and television, sex and dating, and politics. Her writing can also be found at Bright Wall/Dark Room, Cosmopolitan UK, Refinery29, Into, them, and Knock LA. She was a 2022 Outfest Screenwriting Lab Notable Writer and a 2023 Lambda Literary Screenwriting Fellow. She is currently working on a million film and TV projects mostly about queer trans women. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Drew Burnett has written 550 articles for us.

6 Comments

  1. “A lot of queer couples are non-monogamous,” is exactly what the right-wing fascists want to hear so they can continue to reduce LGBTQ people to nothing more than objects of sex. This is the perfect statement for them to include in their “testimony” that since a lot are non-monogamous, our existence is indecent. It’s just the statement they are looking for. Great job!

  2. “The Bostonians” with Vanessa Redgrave as the great lesbian character Olive Chancellor is also another film about a man getting in the middle. It was really depressing to watch, but sort of uplifting at the end. “The Fox,” which is a favorite film of mine is also madly infuriating because Keir Dullea is presented as a predatory “fox” character sweeping in to win his prey. And oh “Personal Best” Yes, there does seem to be many movies with that theme! But this one has a different take it seems.

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