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Föreningen Film i Malmö presents
“The primary subject explored by the Welsh writer Sarah Waters is the kind of freedom that women can find only with one another. In the early nineteen-nineties, Waters wrote a doctoral thesis on lesbian and gay historical fiction, and she has since made this her genre, too: her first novel was titled ‘Tipping the Velvet,’ after a Victorian euphemism for cunnilingus; her most recent book, ‘The Paying Guests,’ is set in nineteen-twenties London, and tells of a transaccional relationship between two women—Frances, a gentlewoman in reduced circumstances, and Lilian, the boarder whom Frances takes into her home—that becomes a moving, openly sentimental form of lustful love. ‘It was like a cure, being with Lilian,’ Frances thinks. ‘It made one feel like a piece of wax being cradled in a soft, warm palm.’ Waters’s plots often rely on gambits of concealment and reinvention; these aren’t always directly related to female sexuality, but they reinforce the subject’s thematic centrality.
It’s lovely, then, to have a man be so faithful to the deepest motivations of Waters’s novel ‘Fingersmith’ in a film adaptation. Park Chan-wook’s new movie, The Handmaiden, transports that book’s tale of subterfuge and sexual prerogative, originally set in late-nineteenth-century England, to Korea in the nineteen-thirties. (…) Sex, inevitably, is at the center of all this code-switching—and yet sex proves liberating only for the women in the plot, not for the men. And of the many ways in which The Handmaiden alters Fingersmith, the most important is Park’s decision to cede power to the women at a point when Waters unrolled another series of swaps and reveals. The effect is thrilling—it’s the most satisfying bit of wish-fulfillment and fantasy in a movie that is pornographic in more ways than one.”
(“The Handmaiden and the freedom women find only with one another“, by Jia Tolentino for The New Yorker)