Let’s face it, 2020 was a strange year and 2021 is possibly looking to be of a similar vein but we have high hopes for it still as there are some really great and interesting lesbian films coming out to help shake your blues away. Clementine (dir. Lara Jean Gallagher) is one of them. Clementine is a psychological drama centered around heartbroken artist Karen (Otmara Marrero– Start-up, Vandal, Miss Arizona) as she navigates her emotions whilst getting over a breakup with an older woman, D (Sonya Walger). Karen, rejected, breaks into her ex-lover’s sublime isolated lake house cottage to get her life together. In the midst of her self-imposed isolation, a mysterious younger woman, Lana (Sydney Sweeney – Euphoria, Sharp Objects, The Handmaid’s Tale), appears from nowhere, telling a story of a lost dog. It soon becomes apparent that both have their fair share of demons to deal with and the two soon become entangled in an intense relationship whilst both are figuring out how to move on from their pasts and what they ultimately want for their futures.
Clementine is director Lara Jean Gallagher’s debut feature film. It has achieved some high praise already, making a strong impact at its premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival. This visually beautiful drama, acted with genuine rawness, with languidly gorgeous shots and an eerily moody score, is now set for its premiere in the UK from Bohemia Media. Clementine was developed with the support of the Venice Biennale College-Cinema, the Sundance Institute, Film Independent, IFP, and the Tribeca Film Institute.
Gallagher’s inspiration for Clementine stemmed from her observation that there was a lack of stories being told with nuanced strong female characters. The film explores the sexual dynamics between two females as opposed to the mainstream norm between male and female characters and explores female sexuality and intimacy through storytelling. In Gallagher’s own words, ‘The idea of cyclical relationships — how we can be hurt and then go on to hurt someone else in almost the exact same way — is the heart of Clementine.’
Q & A with director Lara Jean Gallagher
Q: This is your first feature film, what made you decide this was the story you wanted to tell?
Lara: I really wanted to explore how a female relationship could oscillate between friends, rivals, teacher/student, sisters, lovers, protector/protected all at the same time. It seemed like a simple yet juicy premise to dig into that could rely on strong performance and the natural beauty of Oregon.
Q: What was the significance to the Oregon setting to both you and the story?
Lara: I’m originally from a small town in Pennsylvania and am really interested in the sense of entrapment that a small town creates. The shift between a place seeming small and safe or closed and suffocating is something that really inspires me and that I found here in Oregon. The natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest forest adds another element of drama — in the morning sun it’s welcoming and peaceful, but at night, it’s mysterious and imposing.
Q: Sexual tension and exploration plays a prominent role in the film. What was your process in depicting that on-screen and did you draw from specific cinematic influences?
Lara: I really wanted storytelling, being heard, and the simple drama of being looked at to be the most revealing parts of the film. To me, this is what female intimacy is about. Lucrecia Martel’s films as well as Ingmar Bergman’s “Personna” were my big influences. Balancing restraint with subjectivity was the goal while trying not to call attention to the camera or filmmaking at all.
Q: What were some of the challenges you had to overcome during the shoot?
Lara: Our film takes place in the summer but we ended up pushing the shoot into the fall for logistical reasons, which provided a challenge. We actually got incredibly lucky with the rain holding off, but the lake we were shooting on was really cold even when the sun was shining. Most of the lakes in Oregon are on federal land, which means there are not many private residences on them, so finding the perfect lake house location was quite a challenge. I think we looked for about 7 months and only locked in the location about a couple weeks before shooting was supposed to start.
Q: Can you describe the casting process?
Lara: We were fortunate to get to work with a great casting director based in LA (Nicole Arbusto) who was willing to work with our budget because she connected to the script. She was able to guide us through the process and get some really amazing people in to audition. Being based in Oregon and on a tight budget, everything had to be done remotely via taped auditions and video chats. I actually didn’t have the opportunity to meet with any of our lead actors before they arrived in Oregon for the shoot. There wasn’t time to rehearse, let alone get to know each other or for them to get to know each other, which is really crazy when I think about how critical their chemistry is for the film. Sydney Sweeney was actually in Portland shooting the Netflix show Everything Sucks when she auditioned. She was super interested in the role and in shooting another project in Oregon, which was just one of the ways in which we really lucked out with casting.
Q: The narrative of the film is driven by your lead female actors; however, you have a few men in supporting roles. Please discuss the roles the men play in the film and how they relate to the relationship of your lead actresses.
Lara: The men in the film are definitely meant to be a threatening presence initially, though this is complicated throughout the course of the film. I think in order to write complicated female characters, the male characters can’t be simple either. There’s a lightness and ease between Beau and Lana that really weighs on Karen. It was super fun to try and strike this balance and to watch Will Britain toggle boyishness and overt masculinity.
Q: What influenced this work?
Lara: I had a relationship with an older and more successful woman that ended in a break-up that just completely floored me. As I got closer to the age that she was when we started dating, I found myself more interested than angry about the experience. Clementine is definitely working out a lot of tangled feelings about being dumped, the sense of (or lack of) self-worth when dating someone older and more experienced, as well as the haunting and wily subject of age…especially for ambitious women.
Q: And finally, what do you hope audiences take away from this film?
Lara: I really wanted to explore how relationships can be cyclical — how we can be so hurt but then go on to hurt someone else in almost the exact same way. I wanted to tell a coming-of-age story, but in a way that’s more mirror than growth. I guess I’m interested in people taking charge of their own coming-of-age stories, deciding how they want to be and how they want to grow. I hope people are interested. I hope they have questions and want to talk about it, but feel something regardless
Clementine is out on digital release on February the 8th 2021.
Reviewer and Writer
Alex has worked as a film stills photographer, written stories for a museum promotion campaign and has had her work featured on the cover of an Australian based lesbian magazine. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree, focusing on film, writing and photography from Perth’s Edith Cowan University.
She is currently working on a documentary project centred on lesbian refugee women’s experiences, combining her love of documentary film, photography and her current role as an occupational therapist. All in all, she is passionate about film, especially lesbian-made and themed films.