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European Film  
 
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European films have been greatly influential in shaping the history of queer cinema. In the first 30 years or so of cinema (roughly from the 1920s through the 1950s), European films, like their American counterparts, rarely included honest, non-judgmental portrayals of gay and lesbian characters or dealt seriously with the theme of homosexuality.

However, as attitudes and ideas evolved in Europe throughout the 1960s and 1970s the lives and culture of homosexual men and women became more visible, and film became more explicit about sexual behavior. Consequently, glbtq filmmakers across many European countries were able to bring their personal sensibilities to the screen, creating socially, as well as artistically, significant queer-themed films.

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Although working across an array of styles and exploring a variety of subjects, several common themes can be found within many glbtq European films, such as conflicts between classes and generations, the plight of the marginalized, and the yearning for love and freedom in a repressive society.

Early Gay and Lesbian European Films

The first known gay-themed film is Swedish director Mauritz Stiller's Vingarne (The Wings, 1916). Based on Herman Bang's novel Mikael, the film concerns a sculptor and his attraction to his young and handsome apprentice (who is primarily attracted to women). The younger man takes advantage of his patron at every opportunity, and their romance ends unhappily, with the older man dying of a broken heart.

The same material was used by German filmmaker Carl Theodor Dreyer in 1924, under the title Mikaël. As with the earlier Swedish film, the relationship between the two men is handled discreetly and conveyed mainly through glances and tone.

Another early gay-themed film is Richard Oswald's Anders als die Andern (Different from the Others, 1919), written by Oswald and Magnus Hirschfeld, the renowned German sexologist and founder of the Institute for Sexual Science in Berlin. Conrad Veidt stars as a musician blackmailed after making advances on a stranger at a men-only dance. The story was prefaced by a direct-to-camera monologue by Hirschfeld and ended with an explicit plea for the abolishment of Paragraph 175, the German law that punished homosexuality. The film was banned by the German government after a short commercial run.

In 1931, Leontine Sagan directed Mädchen in Uniform (Girls in Uniform), one of the earliest films with a strong lesbian undertone. Based on a play by the German writer Christa Winsloe, it tells the story of Manuela, an unhappy schoolgirl sent to a strict boarding school, who develops a romantic attraction to one of her teachers. When Manuela openly declares her love the headmistress denounces such feelings as "sinful" and decides the student must be expelled. Faced with separation from her beloved, Manuela is driven to the point of suicide. Two endings were created for the film; in one, Manuela dies, but in the other she is saved by her classmates. The latter version was deemed objectionable by American censors; therefore, the more tragic ending, where the schoolgirl is irrevocably punished for her feelings, was the only version available in the United States for decades.

Cocteau and Genet

Other significant examples of early European gay cinema include the films of Jean Cocteau and Jean Genet's Un chant d'amour.

Jean Cocteau was one of the most versatile French artists of the twentieth century; in addition to being a director, he was a poet, novelist, painter, playwright, set designer, and actor. He was also openly homosexual; many of his films feature his lover of many years Jean Marais.

Cocteau's first film, Le sang d'un poète (The Blood of a Poet, 1930), explores the process of creating art through a series of dreamlike tableaux. Cocteau has stated that the film was an attempt to tell "where poems come from." He denied that the film contained any symbolism and instead called the movie "a realistic documentary of unreal happenings."

Cocteau wrote dialogue and adapted several stories for the screen over the next several years, but let fifteen years pass before writing and directing his second film, La belle et la bête (Beauty and the Beast, 1946). Using haunting images, and romantically elegant sets and costumes, Cocteau tells the story (based on the eighteenth-century fable by Madame Leprince de Beaumont) of a lonely and misunderstood Beast, played by Jean Marais, who falls in love with a beautiful young woman. La belle et la bête is, by general consensus, one of the most enchanting films ever made.

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