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Sapphism on Screen

Lesbian Desire in French and Francophone Cinema

Lucille Cairns


This book sets out to investigate and theorise mediations of lesbian desire in a substantial corpus of films (spanning the period 1936-2002) by male and female directors working in France and also in French-speaking parts of Belgium, Canada, Switzerland and Africa. The corpus is unique in never before having been assembled, and represents a valuable tool not just for researchers but also for university teachers creating courses both on lesbianism in film and on sexuality in French cinema. A fair number of the 89 texts treated are mainstream films which have achieved high critical acclaim and/or high viewing figures: to cite just a few examples, Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Quai des orfèvres (1947), Louis Malle’s Milou en mai (1989), Claude Chabrol’s La Cérémonie (1995), André Téchiné’s Les Voleurs (1995), and François Ozon’s Huit femmes (2001). As such, they have contributed to hegemonic constructions of and debate on (female) homosexuality, in a century wherein sexed/ gendered identity, including sexual orientation, has become a preeminent factor in the constitution of subjectivity. While such constructions and debate have a French-language specificity, and have been produced in distinct socio-political and cultural contexts, this study also engages in analytical comparisons with relevant anglophone films and their own distinct discursive contexts.


1. Lesbian Desire in Film: Coming to Terms
2. Bad Girls: Criminality
3. Mad Girls: Pathology
4. Girls On The Edge: Liminality
5. Girls On Top: Sapphology
6. Conclusion
Annotated Filmography

About the Author

Lucille Cairns is Professor of French, School of Modern Languages and Cultures, University of Durham.


a great resource as much for film studies as for studies in this genre
- Brigitte Rollet, University of London Institute in Paris, Modern and Contemporary France
It forms an invaluable resource for anyone working on gay and lesbian studies in a French and/or cultural studies context.
Cairns provides us not only with a rich and extensive overview of her subject, but also with an apposite starting-point for future fertile debates. As a consequences, this book will be of great value for the fields of French and francophone screen and cultural studies.
- Daren Waldron, Modern Language Review