Close up shot from Céline Sciamma's Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)
Filmmaking, like all art, is built upon a set of rules; they (the restrictive power in your life: a teacher, a colleague, society, Big Brother, etc.) teach you what to do and how to do it. They exist to keep us within the cutting lines, a safe but restrictive place. Rules aren’t... bad, per se but the most memorable films are often the ones that broke the rules. To never take risks is to smother your own art
Queer cinema is not art as we’ve known it to be.
Queerness, by society's standards, is abnormal. It was seen as (and to some, still is) something to fear, a threat to the “proper” lifestyle and values of society. Though, what began as a brand for what cis-heteronormative culture has historically viewed as abject and perverse, through cinema (and various other art forms) has bloomed into a unique way to tell stories. It’s anti-normative characters often show another side of life, one that at least slightly divulges from the status quo.
It’s a theme that many queer filmmakers present narratively as well as cinematically. In this way, queer cinema is set in direct opposition to both the subject matter and form of cis-heteronormative cinema. Queer films often feature disjointed narrative structures, scattered timelines, and scenes that blend different genres together. Because of this, many queer films have found a home in experimental cinema, a genre that’s entire existence is based on nontraditional filmmaking.
Toshio Matsumoto's Funeral Parade of Roses (1969) is a prime example of a queer film with a temporally sporadic narrative
Despite this, not all queer films utilize avant-garde techniques such as the ones listed above. In recent time, queer cinema seems to pay less attention to nontraditional form, and rather emphasizes the political potential of its unorthodox characters and story. Both approaches are completely valid and count as queer cinema. In fact, it’s this variety of different types of filmmaking that enrich queer cinema as a whole. Personally, I’ve become very fond of queer cinematic radicalism. I feel that its themes are entrenched in the roots of new queer cinema and that it more accurately portrays the queer gaze. Though, I believe that more traditional films are necessary as they are more easily digested by mainstream audiences.
Céline Sciamma's Tomboy (2011), a more narratively formal queer film
The debate around what direction queer cinema should take primarily stems from the fear of the loss, or complete erasure, of queer cinema as it assimilates into mainstream media. It’s a sentiment that I’ve never completely understood but I have seen in many places. Likewise, some films may feature queer characters, but seem to be for a cis-hetero audience. While every film has some sort of target audience in mind, some are broader than others. In regards to queer cinema, it often comes down to whether a film is for queer or cis-hetero audiences (as well as various other categories depending on the additional genres of the film). While a film such as Call Me by Your Name (2017) is (for the most part) beloved by the queer community, a film like Love, Simon (2018), while still well-received, is often criticized for addressing cis-hetero audiences as opposed to queer audiences.
It’s a dilemma that I think is worth talking about. In my own opinion, we should still accept queer films, even if they aren’t necessarily for us. After all, at the end of the day, art is for anyone who can access it. For this reason, those of us who do have access should do what we can to help those around us who do not, as well as reflect on the aspects of queer films. By just discussing what we think queer cinema is and bringing all different types of films into the conversation, we build a grand archive and history of queer cinematography for future generations to expand upon. If we all continue to consume queer media as well as care about the issues it presents, then I’m sure both queer cinema and the queer community will continue to grow into more stellar versions of itself.