This is NOT a lesbian film – The Book of Gabrielle (DVD Review)


Another intriguing piece by the multi-limbed Lisa Gornick (Do I love you? 2002) a director, producer, writer, actress and artist, best known for providing works that encourage us to continue to question our nature. It is internal viewing with charm and quirkiness that manages to lessen the weight of such heavy themes, with a much needed seasoning of humour – making it not only easier to swallow but a joy.

The piece is led by Gabrielle Young (Lisa Gornick) an unconventional and unsure woman that’s hoping to have her graphic novel “How to do it” published with her own hand drawn illustrations at each chapter, the “it” being sex. She often questions her sexuality and throughout the piece its clear that having her book published is the thread, but not the real reason for the piece having been produced.

The book, similar to Gabrielle, is different and a struggle for publishers to take on, due to its graphic illustrations of sex. During this struggle the viewer is witness to her relationship with Olivia (Anna Koval) – a younger woman whom Gabrielle compares to a male fantasy, and her platonic relationship with the well established and conventional erotic fiction writer Saul (Alan Corduner) that although he’s set in his ways he’s never the less drawn to Gabrielle’s attitudes.

As questions arise in Gabrielle’s mind she begins to feel dissatisfied sexually by Olivia and whilst opening up to Saul – in hopes of giving the book better form and story – she leaves Olivia and proceeds with the book. At first, the book is rejected by the “men in suits” and Saul – yet another man – steps in to give aid, trying his best to have her follow the traditions of storytelling. Finding her work “overwhelming” he attempts to mould it and she, as expected, refuses.

Although the film begins and for a time questions the relationship between Gabrielle and Olivia it seems like more of a way to show how Gabrielle feels towards sexuality with a physical example in place, which gives the viewer a way of watching rather than being told. Often times Gabrielle requests pleasure from Olivia and more often than not this is rejected leaving Gabrielle, by her own words, feeling like a boy needing a hand job to finish himself off – this being the first moment Gabrielle plays with gender.

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What plays more importance is the relationship between Gabrielle and Saul as it seems to be a push and pull between both the conventional (Saul) and the unconventional (Gabrielle). This platonic relationship plays a great part because its the clash of both of these characters and what they do or don’t believe in.

Although when asked what she’s writing by Saul she tells him a guide to sex, he assumes that she must then know a lot. Her response is that she doesn’t actually know much and what she’s trying to do is express her views on sexuality, sex and gender through the voice of her own – a woman’s voice. This translates perfectly as it shows her being a humble character that doesn’t pretend to know anything, whereas Saul holds himself as though he knows all he needs to.

The book is for a time in both of their hands and while Saul pulls it towards him and talks of tradition and a linear pattern of story, Gabrielle pulls it towards herself and speaks of expression. She speaks of her life, her relationship as it stands, while Saul gives lines of advice and encouragement to dig deeper. This relationship is of far more importance throughout as it reveals Gabrielle much more so than in the inactive relationship with Olivia; that only shows Gabrielle’s lack of sexual purpose and fulfilment.

The reason Lisa decided on having her character create this was because she felt that men had taken the duty of expressing their attitudes towards sex through music, literature, art and film. To the point where she’d heard enough of how men felt about sex and that it was long overdue to have women express themselves on this topic. Doing this by creating a character that seems to not have all the answers fits perfectly, as with every new partner; you discover more about yourself through the act of sex.

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In the film it features various scenes of Gabrielle illustrating for her book which are the opening to each chapter. One scene involves an illustration of a man and a woman naked and wrapped up in one another. With each stroke of her pen and brush, Gabrielle speaks about the similarities between genders when it comes to sex. That we all wish for the same thing, to be taken, to thrust – both soft and hard. This opens up a new outlook of sex; that although we’ve grown to spot the difference, sex is an act of two people after the same thing.

Gabrielle’s fresh attitude towards sex as a way of discovering oneself and having the reminder that both genders have the same interests and driving force to them gives the viewer a fresh understanding to sex after having been injected with a long standing and rigid education.

Although this piece is mainly dialogue without much action throughout, it’s the brilliantly executed performances that keep you engaged and peak your curiosity. Saul being played by the talented Allan Corduner (Mr Nobody, 2009) and Olivia portrayed by Anna Koval (Misfits, 2009), the film is a unassumingly refreshing achievement that provides viewers the perfect platform in which to make their own mind up about sex.

Gabrielle’s shoes being the perfect kind to wear. Much like Before Sunset (1995), it’s whats being said between each vulnerable character and their simplistic approach to acting that works so well with the script – which was under changes and re-writes with their input during the shoot.

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The film was blessed with a low budget as that always manages to keep directors from becoming distracted with the flashy stuff. This film manages to sneak into your mind and give volume to the questions you’d ignored for so long. The composition by Jasmin Kent Rodgman (13, 2017) with it’s light tones manages to lighten the seriousness of what’s being discussed and gives the viewer a way of striding through the film without a bead of sweat. The camera follows the traditions of any British drama, although with such jump cuts it’s questionable whether this is almost entirely a conceptual work or a story we’re meant to follow.

The most striking parts of the film are the illustrations involved which are in fact introduced to represent each chapter but also to provide a space to reflect over the previous scene. This gave a film that could’ve potentially become scattered and loaded an approachable simplicity.

This is clearly not another lesbian film that involves unnecessary sex scenes between lovers like Blue Is The Warmest Colour (2013), or another polished film where both genders are so clearly stereotyped such as Fifty Shades of Grey (2015). This piece is great for anybody with an open mind as it provides the viewer not with entertainment but more importantly a new understanding and approach to something that we haven’t yet explored. A piece that ends without resolution, but a nudge in the right direction.

Dir: Lisa Gornick

Scr: Lisa Gornick

CastLisa Gornick, Joni Kamen, Anna Koval, Allan Corduner

Prd: Lisa Gorkin, Margaret Glover, Naomi Gornick and Alex Thiele

DOP: Amarjeet Singh

Music: Jasmin Kent Rodgman

Country: UK

Year: 2016

Runtime: 80 mins

The Book of Gabrielle is available on Digital and DVD now.