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Film / Sappho

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Sappho is a 2008 American film, also known as Summer Lover. Set in 1926 Greece, it features an American couple named Sappho and Phil on vacation. They're very happy together, but Sappho falls for a Russian woman she meets, and things quickly become really complicated...


  • '20s Bob Haircut: Sappho and Helene sport bobs as a sign the film is set in 1926. Sappho got more of an inverted bob, while Helene has the shingle. For Sappho, it also signifies realization of her bisexuality, as she has an affair with Helene in the wake of getting this.
  • Bisexual Love Triangle: Sappho and Phil are a happy married couple. However then Sappho is smitten by Helene, and begins a relationship with her. She openly encourages Phil to be involved with Helene as well, and they have sex. In the end, Phil and Helene get together after Sappho kills herself.
  • Boyish Short Hair: Sappho has hers cut into a bob as part of her cross-dressing. Bobs were a common style among many women then however, so this doesn't stand out that much.
  • Bury Your Gays: Sappho kills herself in the finale after her female lover breaks things off with her.
  • Character Title: Sappho is the main character.
  • Closet Key: Before meeting Helene Sappho doesn't seem to have ever been attracted by women, nor even knew about what her own name signified.
  • Coming-Out Story: Sappho tells Phil she likes women too and begins an affair with Helene. Near the end she's also embraced the term "lesbian" (though she seems to be bisexual-this wasn't used much when the film is set).
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Phil is more tolerant than most 1920s people would be of his wife cross-dressing and having sex with a woman. He still clearly isn't happy though (not just of her cheating, but otherwise acting too "masculine" in his view). Other people also disapprove when Sappho is publicly dressed as a man, though only mildly. Phil also very much dislikes her having a tattoo, saying only sailors and whores get them.
  • Double-Meaning Title: The title is the protagonist's name. However, it also references the love between women which the film is based around too, as her namesake Sappho of Lesbos is the source for the term "lesbian" and "sapphic" (any same-sex female sexuality).
  • Downer Ending: Sappho kills herself when Helene breaks off their relationship. Phil and Helene depart for the US with her body.
  • Driven to Suicide: Sappho kills herself in the finale when Helene ends their affair.
  • Everybody Has Lots of Sex: Downplayed as there are only four main characters in the film, but Sappho and Phil both have multiple sex scenes together. Then once Sappho falls for Helene, both of them have sex with her too.
  • The Exile: The Orlovs are expatriate Russians living in Greece who fled due to the Bolshevik Revolution and can't return to their homeland.
  • The Flapper: Although they don't indulge in the stereotypical dancing, listening to jazz or illicit alcohol, Sappho and Helene otherwise fit into this. Both have the bob hairstyles (Helene from the beginning, Sappho a bit later) and the dress style. The pair are also sexually liberated, unapologetically having an affair together and sharing Sappho's husband, with the setting during the late '20s. It ends badly however as Sappho kills herself when their affair collapses.
  • Foreshadowing: Near the beginning, Sappho is told about the rock where her namesake allegedly jumped to her death over a lost love. She later kills herself over Helene's rejection.
  • Gayngst-Induced Suicide: Sappho kills herself once her same-sex affair collapses.
  • Happily Married: Sappho and Phil start out this way. Then things become difficult as Sappho grows enamored with a lovely woman on their vacation to Greene.
  • Important Haircut: Sappho has her long, brown hair cut into a bob then dyed blond, as a symbol of her newfound bisexuality, cross-dressing and having a relationship with a woman afterwards.
  • Intimate Artistry: Phil paints Helene naked after they start sleeping together.
  • Lipstick Lesbian: More lipstick bisexuals as they share a man, but Sappho and Helene are both very feminine despite their slightly androgynous flapper looks along with being involved together. Sappho always acts quite demure and even girlish, Helene is more elegant, with reserve befitting of a Proper Lady (she's an emigrant Russian aristocrat).
  • Making Love in All the Wrong Places: Sappho and Helene consummate their affair on the beach. Helene and Phil then have sex in the forest later.
  • Meaningful Name: Sappho had no idea of the import her name has until Helene tells her about the historical Sappho of Lesbos, whose name is the origin for lesbianism and sapphism. The pair become lovers after this.
  • Minimalist Cast: There are only four main characters in the film: Sappho, Phil, Helene and Professor Orlov. All of the rest are bit characters.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Sappho and Helene are both topless plus briefly entirely naked on the beach or while modeling for art, in sex scenes or otherwise.
  • No Bisexuals: Sappho describes herself as a lesbian upon realizing her attraction toward Helene, though she's also very clearly attracted to men. Here it's pretty justified as the term "bisexual" wasn't used much when the film is set (well, in a reference to sexuality anyway), and "lesbian" gets said to simply mean any woman who's into other women.
  • Queer Romance: Sappho realizing her attraction to women, and subsequent relationship with Helene, makes up the core of the film. Both are bisexual however, having a Bisexual Love Triangle with Sappho's husband Phil.
  • Polyamory: Sappho clearly wants Phil and Helene to have a trio with her. She encourages them to get involved. However, while they have sex, both reject this in the end.
  • Reincarnation: Discussed by Professor Orlov, who relates Pythagoras' belief that all life reincarnates to Sappho, and shares it himself. After Sappho is dead, Phil and Helene comfort themselves by thinking this may be true.
  • The Roaring '20s: The film is set in 1926, with a reference to Prohibition plus the women having period-appropriate styles.
  • Wall Bang Her: Phil has sex with Helene up against a tree.
  • Wholesome Crossdresser: Sappho dresses as a man in Greece multiple times, and is presented positively overall. Characters who know about this disapprove or react with mixed feelings however.