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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...

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  • '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.
  • Ambiguous Gender Identity: Sappho calls herself a boy in some instances and often dresses as a man. It's ambiguous if she identifies as male, or simply means she's taken a "man's role" by having sex with another women, acting more boldly etc. She probably has no concept of being transgender (or similarly bigender, genderfluid etc.) because it's still the 1920s, making it even less clear.
  • Boyish Short Hair: Sappho has hers cut into a bob as part of her cross-dressing. This was a common style among many women then however, so this doesn't stand out that much.
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  • 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 began an affair with Helene. Toward the end she's also embraced the term "lesbian" (though she seems to be bisexual-they didn't have the name 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 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.
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  • 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.
  • The Exile: The Orlovs are expatriate Russians living in Greece who fled due to the Bolshevik Revolution and can't return to their homeland.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Avalon Barrie and Lyudmila Shiryaeva are both topless plus briefly entirely naked on the beach or while modeling for art as their characters, 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" didn't even exist when the film is set (well, in reference to sexuality anyway), and "lesbian" gets used to simply mean any woman into other women.
  • Queer Romance: Sappho realizing her attraction to women, and subsequent relationship with Helene, makes up the core of the film.
  • 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.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Sappho starts a relationship with Helene in Greece on vacation with her husband. She's quite open about it and he doesn't stop them, but he's clearly not really happy about this either. As it's a same-sex affair, he seems not to care as much then.
  • 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.
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