Female Desire on Screen

Flipping the switch on a century of cinema's male gaze with a collection exploring women's sexual expression in film.

In conjunction with the release of anthology She Found It at the Movies: Women Writers on Sex, Desire and Cinema (edited by Christina Newland), we present a season of films exploring the under-discussed desires of female audiences and their onscreen counterparts.

This online season aims to encourage discussion about female viewers' relationship with moviegoing and the ideas that cinema gave us about what sex should be. From queer coming-of-age stories to documentaries about male strippers, Female Desire attempts to flip the switch on a century of cinema's male gaze, and find space for women's sexual expression in film.

Below Christina Newland contextualises a selection of films through the prism of female desire; the collection will be supported by a series of q&s and discussions on BFI online platforms from 24 April 2020.

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Drama199998 minsDirector: Catherine Breillat

Shockingly explicit, Catherine Breillat’s critically acclaimed Romance is one of the most controversial films of modern cinema.

Among the most controversial and sexually explicit of films from audacious director Catherine Breillat, Romance tells the tale of a young woman in a sexually flat, monogamous relationship who begins to trawl bars for more exciting opportunities.

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Belle de JourBelle de Jour

Drama1967100 minsDirector: Luis Buñuel

Luis Buñuel's provocative classic about a bored and neglected housewife (Catherine Deneuve) risks her reputation to take up a daring new hobby.

Luis Buñuel’s chilly arthouse classic featuring a repressed, glamourous housewife – an unforgettable Catherine Deneuve – is a masterclass in aesthetic eroticism and the complexities of BDSM. It was considered outrageous upon release for its linking of female sexual liberation with the act of prostitution, and viewed now it’s as daring as ever.

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The Watermelon WomanThe Watermelon Woman

Comedy199785 minsDirector: Cheryl Dunye

Cheryl Dunye's smart and funny romance - thought to be the first feature directed by a black lesbian - remains a breath of fresh air decades on.

A low-budget landmark feature, The Watermelon Woman was one of the first ever to be directed and released by a black lesbian woman (Cheryl Dunye). The story centres on a documentarian who spends her time searching cinema archives for black and queer representation, as well as her steamy love affairs; it’s a movie of both cerebral and sexual appeal.

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Immoral TalesImmoral Tales

Anthology1974103 minsDirector: Walerian Borowczyk

Walerian Borowczyk presents four stories of sexual taboos throughout the ages, in his highly controversial classic of 1970s erotic cinema.

An erotic fantasy journey through several periods of history, Walerian Borowczyk’s anthology film is as outrageous as it is surreal. Immoral Tales examines sexual mores and proclivities across four distinct historical moments, featuring incest, domination, and blasphemy, all with a dreamy softcore look that’s pure 1970s porno-chic.

More from Female Desire on Screen in our Rentals collection.