Review: Girls’ School

Directed by Lee Mi-Mi and written by Chiu Hsui-chuan, Chih-Ting and Chia-Lin, two students at a girls’ high school, have been close friends for years. But their relationship comes under intense scrutiny when their classmates start a rumour that they’re a lesbian couple. Starring: Tien Niu, Shen Yan, Chou Dan-Wei and Chin Han.

One of the fascinating things about this film is that it explores queer issues without queer characters. It taps directly into the discrimination and rampant homophobia of Taiwan in the 1980s, through how the mere suggestion of potentially a same-sex relationship, completely without fact throws their community off-balance. The entire story basically shows the idea that these adults would rather make two children completely miserable, than have gossip spread. They’re all so afraid of lesbianism, that they’re prepared to kill the joy of two innocent girls, and throw away their close friendship, than even entertain the inkling of a suggestion that they have a relationship. It’s baffling to see such forcing of prejudiced ideas on vulnerable children, reinforcing negative attitudes and it would be no wonder that these children would then go out into the world with homophobic perspectives.

It also brings up the concept of how children are typically blindingly unaware of the consequences to their actions. It’s especially relevant in today’s world when allegations can have such an irrevocable impact on people’s lives, even if untrue and proved so, once a seed of doubt is planted, it rarely goes away. Interestingly, despite the fact that it treads over a lot of the same ground for the most part, moving fairly slow in its plot, the pacing is done well. The only weak point is the ending, it feels like it doesn’t make as big of an impact or send as strong of a message as it could have. The tone it sends is more simple and sentimental, wrapping things up fairly neatly rather than with a larger vindication.

Lee Mi-Mi’s direction ticks all the boxes that you’d expect, perfectly tapping into the youthful, small community, family style atmosphere. It doesn’t try to bring a grit or darker element, it remains in a more widely accessible and friendly arena. It’s wholesome and heartfelt, following the typical style of its time and bringing a softer emotion. The performances by the whole cast are well done, they all hit similar notes of sincerity and affection. They follow the style of the direction and atmosphere, going for a warm but tense drama, rather than bringing through a coldness and more aggressive discrimination.

Girls’ School captures the endemic homophobia in 1980s Taiwan, portraying how society would rather make two perfectly innocent children suffer, than have them accused of lesbianism. It shows the power of gossip and suggestion, as well as how important it is to teach understanding and accepting values at such a vulnerable age.

Verdict: ✯✯✯✯ | 8/10

Screening for its 40th Anniversary as part of Queer East Film Festival at BFI Southbank on 24 May

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