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Hi, Are You A Lesbian? Flirting Queer at Cannes

Yu Jing is a film journalist and programmer for Shanghai Queer Film Festival. Returning from Cannes Film Festival, she shares her thoughts on being Asian, queer and just maybe a little flirtatious at the world’s most prestigious cinema event.

Queer films are rarely screened in Chinese movie theaters, leaving cinephiles hungry for the queer movies that make waves abroad. Last year, when I got back from Cannes, everyone’s favorite question to ask me was my opinion on The Handmaiden (dir. Park Chan Wook). To grab attention, words like “sensual”, “lesbian desire”, and “sexuality” were used by online media reporting on the film. Taboo fuels Chinese audiences’ zealous lust for queer films. In my opinion, The Handmaiden received OK reviews from festival goers, its lesbian content didn’t grant it a special laurel at Cannes.

The progressive environment at Cannes sometimes renders the label of “queer films” ostentatious. Film professionals and critics are always more interested in the content and artistry of a piece than its subject or topic. So, if I’m going to illuminate you about what it’s like to be ‘a queer Asian film professional’ at Cannes, I’ll have to go beyond cinema. Screenings are screenings and movies are movies. But what goes on behind the scenes, is the reason most people attend international film festivals like Cannes. Aside from networking, Cannes’s free-loving atmosphere makes it a great place to let loose your hormones.

One year, during the Venice Film Festival, photographers were orderly lining up to photograph an important event. In the neatly arranged line, a gorgeous young Italian photographer boy chatted up a male delegate from Chinese media. They hit it off right away, and the Italian boy asked for the Chinese guy’s number, delightfully asking to continue their conversation elsewhere. Another reporter documented the story on his Weibo, “I hope he realized he just got picked up”, he wrote, not without a hint of jealousy. The story became a favorite, circulating through the queer Chinese film industry community as they headed to festivals to find love and excitement.

Coincidentally, street vendors in Venice have learned during the years to solicit business from Chinese delegations with the Chinese phrase, “souvenirs for your comrades (Tong Zhi, in Chinese Slang, it can also mean “homosexual”), my friend,” making the story seem even more appropriate. No one shies away from informing you of their sexual preferences at Cannes. Last year whilst at Cannes, I made two great friends. They introduced themselves by saying, “Hi, are you a lesbian?” One of them was a straight woman from Berlin, and she insisted that in Berlin, introducing yourself and your sexual preference at the same time is a basic etiquette. Cannes is crazy busy, and many people don’t even have time to eat properly. So barking up the wrong tree whilst flirting over a drink would be a huge waste of time. As I said earlier, movies are movies here, judging one’s sexual orientation from their passion for Blue Is the Warmest Color or Carol would be way too presumptuous.

Cannes does have an unofficial award called the Queer Palm, which was founded in 2010, following the introduction of the Queer Lion at Venice. Since its an award independently sponsored and initiated from grass-root effort, the jury has no right to review the nominated entries before they premiere during the festival. This has created a huge problem, since a lot of nominations, after viewing, turn out to have nothing to do with the queer community. So, as a queer film professional, following the list of queer films nominated for the Queer Palm and risk your life sometimes to try and squeeze into a screening, is sometimes less of a queer experience than partying queer at the festival. Busy film professionals always seem horny; just because you can’t get a ticket for Laurence Anyways, doesn’t mean you won’t be able to party like Laurence here. The gay bar up the hill pales from the annual queer party that the American delegation throws at Cannes. Every year, the venue overflows with visions from around the world. No ticket or invitation is needed: as long as you have a Cannes delegate pass, you’re welcome. People had been telling me all week that I can’t miss this party and have to arrive at 9pm on the dot, or there would be no way I’d get in. 9PM? That’s dinner time. Night creatures like us who wouldn’t normally go out before midnight can’t grasp the idea of attending a party at 9pm. Arriving at 11pm, I was met with a gigantic queue that wriggled with queerness.

I fabuloused my way in pretty quick, and chatted with an actor from this year’s hit film BPM. The music was fantastic, and the alcohol flowed free. I looked around, uncertain if the gorgeous bodies around me are queer to be here, or just here to be queer. So, yeah, hi, are you a lesbian?

Words: Yu Jing

Translation: Will Dai

Article originally written in Chinese. Photos are from the internet.



CINEMQ is a queer short film screening + party series. It is run by a group of queers with too much on their mind to sit still for long. We’re publishing articles on queer cinema and screen culture every week. Want to contribute? Message our account.

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