Film Forum: An Interview With April Mullen, Director of “Below Her Mouth”

“Below Her Mouth” is a sexy lesbian-themed film written, directed by and starring queer women.

Natalie Krill and Erika Linder star in the super-sexy new film “Below Her Mouth”Courtesy of FilmBuff

Oftentimes, when films feature extended lesbian sex scenes, their authenticity is called into question—and that has a lot to do with the fact that straight men are generally behind the camera and straight women are the ones in the queer roles. That’s exactly what director April Mullen wanted to avoid with “Below Her Mouth.” The Canadian film, in theaters now, stars out model Erika Linder as an androgynous heartthrob, Dallas, whose interest in commitment to anything or anyone is lacking until she meets Jasmine (Natalie Krill). Although Jasmine is engaged to a man, the two women crossing paths leads to an immediate connection and tension just begging for release.

“I would say probably I put the most intention in this film into the actresses and the sex scenes and how to portray those in an authentic, new, refreshing female perspective,” Mullen told GO. “So for me, it was trying to delete and erase all of the images and advertisements I had seen about sex since the age of five. Because I’ve been exposed to so many things, but all of those things are written by men or directed by men or made for male audiences.”

“Below Her Mouth” serves up several explicit sexual scenarios, including a lengthy scene in which Jasmine pleasures herself in a bathtub while fantasizing about Dallas, who is working as a roofer on the house next door. Together, Dallas and Jasmine engage in extended erotic sequences that feel visceral rather than voyeuristic. The way they explore each other’s bodies—careful and curious at first, with increasing liberation moving from nighttime into day—may be one of the most conscientious and ingenuous depictions of lesbian sex in modern cinema. Mullen partly credits that to having made the film in Canada, a country whose ratings and restrictions are much more lax than other parts of the world, especially when it comes to artistic expressions of humanity and sexuality.

“I think in Canada, we’re so lucky to be so free and to create films that actually show and celebrate the female orgasm,” Mullen said, “which I rarely even see in film, let alone same-sex [films].”

But the “fine line” that exists between cinematic storytelling through sex and straight-up porn is another aspect Mullen had to consider. Leading with what she found sexy and enticing was what helped her choreograph what she referred to as the actors communicating through their bodies.

“I really looked inwardly,” Mullen said. “It was a very intimate film for me, as well. I had to shed a lot of my truth and show a lot of myself as a female—what turns me on, what entices me to want to get to know somebody or be intimate with them; it’s emotional, it’s mental, it’s spiritual and it’s physical. So there’s a rush of that chemistry, and it’s like, what’s happened to me in my life and how can I depict those moments that made a huge impact on my sexuality as I’ve transformed? Those moments—how do I incorporate those? Because I feel like those are the most honest feelings and images I could bring to the film, so I made sure I was coming from a really honest place within me and not doing or making something for anybody else.”

Making the actors feel comfortable in these intimate situations is also paramount, and Mullen said she was extremely conscious of this, not only be-cause it’s respectful, but because it ultimately benefits the performances.

“There was a lot of conversation going into these scenes so that we were all on the same page, and the actors felt really comfortable with the scenes they were about to do,” Mullen said. “They knew full well where they were going location-wise and what they are doing and how the lighting was going to be. We brought them to location ahead of time and spoke about what was happening so that on the day, they didn’t have to concentrate on anything but being with each other. All they had to do was stay connected with one another.”

The chemistry between Linder (in her first film role) and Krill (who has mostly done Canadian television before now) is what drives “Below Her Mouth,” especially since the focus is on their strong lust for one another versus anything specifically romantic. Despite Mullen calling the film a “love story,” the physicality of Dallas and Jasmine’s relationship is what is unavoidable, not necessarily their emotional want for or seeking of a partner in one another.

“It was way more about their connection—eye contact and communication through the body, not through words,” Mullen said. “There’s very little dialogue in all the sex scenes and it was very important to watch their bodies and let takes linger, have very few cutting points, and not do a lot of takes. All of those things are specific to this film because we wanted it to feel very real and fresh, and the actors did it once, maybe twice, and never again—because we just wanted to get whatever we got.”

“Below Her Mouth” highlights female sexuality and the oft-overlooked idea that women’s desires are so much more complex than the heteronormative depictions we’re repeatedly given to consume on big and small screens.

“I just feel completely blessed to be able to be a part of a project like this. And by the fact that we’re in Canada and we’re able to celebrate love for love’s sake and not be restricted in any way, shape or form in what women do with each other, or by themselves in a bathtub,” Mullen said. “It can be celebrated rather than always associated with shame or guilt. I think it’s so important for a film like this to set a new precedent or a new standard to change people’s perspectives or open up their windows a bit more to what’s OK.”