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[Herald Interview] All-female 'Below Her Mouth’ stretches boundaries at Bucheon film fest

One of the big issues in the film world today is getting more female perspectives on to the silver screen, and perhaps no film better exemplifies those efforts than director April Mullen’s “Below Her Mouth,” which made its Korean premiere at the Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival on July 14.

Not content with just a female director for the lesbian love story, the film generated buzz with its all-female crew, from sets and lighting to catering. 

April Mullen (April Mullen)
April Mullen (April Mullen)

“We wanted the actresses to feel really, really comfortable and at ease,” Mullen tells The Korea Herald at a coffeehouse on Saturday in Bucheon, Gyeonggi Province. “And we knew it was going to be a closed set and kind of sensitive material, and we wanted to allow them to feel very isolated from the world.” The idea started just with the floor crew, she adds, but extended when word got out and women started to recommend other women.

While she says she’s unlikely to follow such a hiring practice again, on others following suit she says, “I would encourage it, especially given that the percentages (of women in film production) are very low.”

“Below Her Mouth” is an 18-rated romantic drama that tells the story of Dallas, played by Swedish supermodel and actress Erika Linder, and her seduction of Natalie Krill’s Jasmine while her fiance is on a weekend business trip. Similar in a vein to last year’s breakout Korean lesbian romance “Our Love Story,” the Canadian film goes much further in its depiction of raw female physicality and the lust that intertwines itself into the love story.

Director April Mullen (center) and lead actresses Natalie Krill (left) and Erika Linder appear on the red carpet for the premiere of “Below Her Mouth” at the Toronto International Film Festival in September. (April Mullen)
Director April Mullen (center) and lead actresses Natalie Krill (left) and Erika Linder appear on the red carpet for the premiere of “Below Her Mouth” at the Toronto International Film Festival in September. (April Mullen)

“The sex in it is very much like an emotional journey and kind of exploring the laws of attraction and what propels people to want to be with another person physically, and why do we do it, and how it feels,” Mullen explains.

“I think very few films explore the female orgasm,” Mullen adds. “And that’s kind of taboo in a way. ... We don’t really talk about that.”

Among other goals the flick seeks is normalizing the depiction of strap-on sexual aides. “It’s just part of our main character’s way of seducing women,” the director says. “It’s very authentic to the community -- the LGBT -- and what women do.” 

Erika Linder (left) and Natalie Krill star in “Below Her Mouth.” (BIFAN)
Erika Linder (left) and Natalie Krill star in “Below Her Mouth.” (BIFAN)

“That’s maybe why we’re in the Forbidden section,” Mullen reflects, referring to the film being programmed in BIFAN’s Forbidden Zone. “I love that we’re forbidden. I think it’s tantalizing, and makes me want to see the film even more.”

“I think the film is very much a universal theme that ‘love is love,’ and it really comes from an honest, truthful, raw place,” she adds.

Mullen further set out to reimagine how sex is portrayed on screen. “(The struggle) was preparing for the sex scenes and making sure they were authentically from a female’s point of view, and not things that have been brainwashed into my head,” she says, pointing out that so much of what is out there is from male fantasy and that idea of what “sexy” is.

“The female perspective is very emotional,” the director opines. 

Erika Linder stars in “Below Her Mouth.” (BIFAN)
Erika Linder stars in “Below Her Mouth.” (BIFAN)

“I had recently fallen desperately in love, and it came with a lot of heartbreak,” Mullen says about what led up to her making “Below Her Mouth.” “I wanted to try and express what that electrical feeling of falling in love very quickly was like -- in 90 minutes.”

“Below Her Mouth” has been making its rounds on the film festival circuit since premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, but critical response has been less than stellar, with some reviews pointing to a lack of direction in dramatic narrative.

“You kind of have to walk in very open-minded and let go of this traditional moviemaking and movie-viewing experience,” Mullen says, brushing off critics. “The movie is meant to just be very simple -- a slice of life in 78 hours -- and it’s supposed to leave you with a feeling.”

There is a kind of response to the film the director has enjoyed, however: young women who approach her in cinema halls after screenings. “It’s way more about the impact that it’s making on the ground floor and when people come up to me and say ... ‘You’ve allowed me to feel like myself,’” she emotes, “That means so much more to me.”

“Below Her Mouth” (TMDb)
“Below Her Mouth” (TMDb)

The director, whose previous works included teen horror flick “Dead Before Dawn 3D” and thriller “88,” is hopping genres again. She begins filming an action musical tentatively titled “Bloody Knuckles” in Ireland in October.

“I hope to keep making all kinds of different films,” Muller explains. “I hope to be sort of a multigenre director. Maybe I’ll break that mold, too.”

The final screening of “Below Her Mouth” at BIFAN is at 8 p.m. on Friday. The film also appears at the 17th Korea Queer Film Festival at Lotte Cinema Broadway near Sinsa Station in Seoul at midnight on Friday and at 10 a.m. on Sunday. It is set for a nationwide release in October.

By Kevin Lee Selzer (
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