So hard to come by in mainstream cinema are films that focus on female desire (pretty disconcerting, right?). Erotic art has a long history of being predominantly male gaze-y, but there are always roses within the thorns. In light of International Women’s Week, here are 5 exceptional films that shamelessly focus on female protagonists with strong desires.

In the Realm of the Senses

In the Realm of the Senses - 5 films about female desire.
In the Realm of the Senses (1976).

1991 Japanese erotic art film by director Nagisa Oshima, In the Realm of the Senses, stems from a true 1936  news story, in which a young woman named Sada Abe was found wandering in the streets of Tokyo clutching a severed penis, in an apparent state of dreamlike pleasure.

After investigation, it was uncovered that a couple of days earlier, Sada’s lover Kichi had died in orgasm with her and she then cut off his genitals as an assertion of their continuing passion for each other. Oshima’s story portrays a compulsive, intensely sexual and finally destructive affair between a maid and her married employer. 

In the Realm of the Senses is still considered to be one of the most controversial films ever made.  The story is pretty much made up of sex scenes- beautifully transfixing sex scenes that is. To swiftly answer the strange never-ending debate amongst critics on whether the film is pornography or art, we can safely say it’s both. What could be better?

 

Belle de Jour

Belle de Jour - 5 films about female desire.
Belle de Jour (1967).

Likely the most well known film of this list is  Luis Buñuel’s Belle de Jour. The story follows Séverine, a young and respectable  Parisian housewife who, bored with her marriage begins to spend her midweek afternoons at a high class brothel, working as a prostitute. We are shown Séverine’s masochistic desires, half realised in daydreams and half in her experiences working at the brothel, and seemingly given an explanation for the root of her submissiveness in short flashbacks to her childhood sexual trauma. 

Another male directed film about female pleasure begs the question of whether the male gaze is truly avoided. Nonetheless, the story is very much through the eyes of Séverine, and we are experiencing her pleasure with her. The film was a huge step forward at its time for representing the female perv. If you, like Séverine, reel from the idea of being tied up and getting mud thrown at your body, this one might be up your street.

 

Raw

Raw - 5 films about female desire.
Raw (2016).

Coming of age cannibalism? Say no more.  Julia Ducournau’s debut feature Raw, follows 17 year old Justine, a vegetarian just starting at veterinary college. At first Justine is shy and waif-like, innocent and not easily able to fit in with the students’ casual parties and games. After being forced to eat a small piece of rabbit kidney in a fresher’s ritual, Justine finds herself increasingly hungry for flesh. Here begins a metaphor in which Justine’s cannibalism and struggle to hide it represents her sexual awakening and eventual sexual liberation. 

Female sexuality is something we are taught to be ashamed of and cover up, despite it being part of our human nature. Justine’s animalistic desire for flesh is representative of her sexual desire for flesh- it’s natural, instinctive and bodily. Justine’s fear and shame for her cannibalism reflects so many teenage girl’s fear and shame towards their own body and desires as they go through puberty.

One of the most impressive aspects about Raw is that by representing female sexuality through the gore of cannibalism, Ducorunau makes Justine and her desires undeniably fierce and difficult to inappropriately sexualise. Raw is a grotesquely enthralling debut masterpiece. If you’re not yet convinced, the soundtrack is also great.

 

A Real Young Girl

A Real Young Girl. Sensuali Blog
A Real Young Girl (1976).

Catherine Breillat’s debut directorial feature is an intimate depiction of 14 year old Alice’s exploration of her budding sexuality, in the surroundings of her rural family home. They say the audience discovers most about a character in their moments when they are alone onscreen. We spend plenty of alone time with Alice, where she is comfortable and free to explore her otherwise caged fantasies.

In a world obsessed with making the natural sexual awakening of teenage girls into something obscene and blasphemous, A Real Young Girl stands out for its real and raw display of a girl discovering her own body and desires. This is the kind of film that would’ve made teenage you feel a lot less weird about your (totally normal) sexual appetite. 

Read: On the female sexual psyche: the films of Catherine Breillat.

 

Mistress

Mistress - 5 films abut female desire.
Mistress (1976).

Looking for something a little lighter? Seventies sex comedy Mistress, follows free-spirited Olivier who when breaking into a seemingly empty apartment discovers a sexual lair before getting caught by its owner, Ariane, a professional dominatrix.

Whilst she continues her job, Olivier becomes her lover and tries to be the ‘strong man’ in their relationship, but Ariane, who is naturally the more dominant is having none of it. As they continue, the couple’s exchanges grow to be unsettlingly similar to Ariane’s interactions with her clients. Underneath Olivier’s attempts to be  in control lies a repressed desire to let go and play the freeing role of the victim also sometimes. 

Masochism is not subject to any judgement or portrayed as being negative or destructive in any way. In fact, paralleled with the interactions between Olivier and Ariane interactions, it is highlighted as simply being a heightened form of the roles we play in our everyday relationships. Mistress is a great film, for not attempting to know all of the answers about our psychosexual desires, but instead simply asking questions and providing good-natured comic relief. 

 

Explore erotic artists on Sensuali.

Read: In conversation with sensual artist: Aurelie Galois.

Featured Photo: In the Realm of the Senses (1976).

Art
Feminism
Films
psychology of sex
Sex
Sex Work
Iso

Iso

Author

Iso is a writer and filmmaker based in East London. She is passionate about all things erotic and leads a sexy, shame-free life in hope that she can inspire others to do the same. Originally from a Northern seaside town, she is naturally drawn to the best things in life: candyfloss, trashy karaoke bars and heart-shaped sunglasses.


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