Rebecca Shoptaw released Girl, Sweetvoiced on June 30, 2019, to a chorus of applause from the wlw community. In a just eight minutes, she has created a minimalistic yet powerfully familiar portrayal of two young women yearning for one another on sight.
In the eight minutes and forty-four seconds of the lesbian short film Girl, Sweetvoiced, starring Georgie Henley (Narnia) and Antoinette Belle, the waves of nostalgia were strong enough to knock me to my knees. The film is an accumulation of layers: worry, doubt, sensuality, attraction, longing and, as Sappho so astutely expresses, want. To intensify this theme, director Rebecca Shoptaw also uses technical layers, swirling a range of strong currents for the viewer to focus on, which when brought together, become an ocean of vivid, intoxicating sensation.
The first layer we are introduced to is the narration, provided by perhaps the most notorious woman in history to verbally express her love for other women, Sappho. Fragments of her poetry are fluidly, softly spoken into the present by the two actresses one after another, then eventually both of them speak it together, providing an auditory journey of romantic union all on its own.
The second layer Shoptaw mixes in is the visual narrative: a short ‘meet-cute’ told in three segments. In the first segment, our blonde protagonist (Belle) surreptitiously looks at the girl beside her on a bus bench, Sappho’s words echoing atop her almost-innocent voyeurism to express her thoughts about what she sees. In the following segment, the scene plays over again, except this time we see from the perspective of the second girl, who is viewing the former, whilst her own selection of poetic lines, taken from Sappho again, are read over the top. Finally, in the third segment, the scene plays one last time, and we see the heart-warming truth: they are both looking at each other, oblivious to the other’s interest, but both alight with a surge of want that Sappho’s poetry encapsulates so well. In this last segment, their phrases, chosen to evoke their feelings for each other, slip seamlessly into one oscillating verse, told in turn by each of their voices. This feels particularly poignant as a closing chapter, as much of Sappho’s poetry has been destroyed, and only fragments are decipherable – rarely whole poems. In marrying the chosen stanzas, all of which were plucked from the ashes of a great poet’s life-work, Shoptaw has birthed a Phoenix of modern lesbian art.
The final layer that completes Girl, Sweetvoiced is the soundtrack: a swirling, emotive string score that winds and drawls over the replaying scene, pulling Sappho’s sensational poetry alongside its melody until it becomes something entirely its own – a song of new, accepted love.
Each layer of Girl, Sweetvoiced is equally as integral to its finely tuned artistry. The words, the music, and the soft, dreamy visuals play off each other, and you drift into a chilly, London evening, sat with a girl on a bus stop bench, hoping that she too might feel the crackling connection that you feel so violently, that is sparking an ancient Sapphic emotion in your chest, and that she might just reach out, across the chasm between you, braver than you could ever hope to be, and fan the flame.