Lianna (1983) from Tuna

Lianna (1983), according to Lesbian Flicks, is the best Lesbian film nobody has seen. I agree, and hope that the new DVD will change that. It is a John Sayles project. He wrote it, and knocked on doors for years trying to raise the $500K he was going to need to make it. When he finally realized that nobody was going for it, he decided to finance it himself, but shot on 16mm to drop the cost to $300K.

Sayles didn't start out to write a lesbian-themed film, but the point he wanted to show got him there. He wanted to show a woman splitting from her husband, not getting the kids, and suddenly having a real struggle to earn a living. The only sin he could think of that didn't make her an unfit mother in 1983 was for her to be gay.


Linda Griffiths, as Lianna, shows breasts in several scenes. Jane Hallaren, as the professor, shows breasts and buns briefly. Betsy Julia Robinson, as a woman Lianna picks up in a gay bar, shows breasts.

She had married a graduate assistant, and quit work to type his thesis. Years later, she finds herself in an unhappy marriage, with two kids, and a husband who screws his female students any chance he gets. She is attending night classes, and develops a crush on one of her professors, so history is repeating itself, and she is again choosing an authority figure. This time, however, the professor is a woman. The wife decides to move out and come out, and hubby is not graceful about it, partly because he will miss her slave labor, and partly because this sort of scandal will almost certainly kill his chance at tenure. The wife hopes to marry the female professor and live happily ever after. The professor, however, is currently separated from a long term love interest, and had figured that the wife was just another bored, bi-curious housewife she could enjoy, then leave. It's not that she was callous, or didn't care about her, but she had deep emotions invested in her other relationship, and a lot of her life as well.

Sayles did an amazing job of getting inside the heads of his characters. He didn't take any easy paths in telling the story. Lianna didn't live happily ever after, neither did she suffer retribution on a Biblical scale for licking pussy. She grew into her new identity, and faced struggles, and some successes, just the way we all do. The author's insights didn't stop there. For example, Lianna's best friend is no longer comfortable with the fact that they change clothes in the same room when they swim. Several of Lianna's husband's male colleagues visit her apartment hoping to score with the new divorcee. The two children were also excellent. The six-year-old couldn't comprehend why her mommy and daddy would want to live apart. The thirteen-year-old son had the typical adolescent attitude that this was just another typical move by parents done solely to screw up his life.

DVD info from Amazon

  • udio Commentary with John Sayles

  • Featurette

  • Widescreen anamorphic format

The print is a little grainy because it was shot on 16mm, but the Hoboken locations look great, and it is well filmed and edited. This is one of the better character-driven dramas I have seen recently, and is at the top of my list of favorite lesbian films along with Desert Hearts, and the first segment of If These Walls Could Talk II. 

The Critics Vote

The People Vote ...

  • Profitable. It grossed $1.5 million, in contrast to a $300k budget.


The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is an easy C+. The genre doesn't get any better than this, and even the weak transfer wasn't enough to spoil it.

Return to the Movie House home page