When setting out to make an intimate and sensual romantic drama, director April Mullen and the other creative forces behind Below Her Mouth had a singular, important vision in mind: women were to make this film. They would be the writers, the directors, and the crew, and in doing so created a rare and what might be the only instance of this happening on a film in Canada.
“The decision was made very early on, we knew we wanted to make the film special,” explained Mullen, who sat down for an interview during TIFF when the film first premiered. “It was made before we even cast the film. When we were auditioning the girls, we already knew we had an all female crew behind us, and I think it helped who responded. This barrier automatically dissolved. We had a different goal and intention, and that opened the doors to a lot more choices. They said, ‘I’m interested in part of the team, I want to be a part of the change, I want to champion women in film.’”
Below Her Mouth tells of the encounter between Jasmine and Dallas, the former a successful albeit bored woman with a lovely home and fiance, and the latter a sexual, intense spark of electricity. Across a weekend in Toronto, the two meet and share a passionate love affair, complete with intimacy, lust, love, confusion, and hope. For these two important roles, Mullen and company found Canadian actress Natalie Krill to be the curious Jasmine, and model Erika Linder as the tenacious Dallas.
“I’ve been on TV and film sets, but never doing such intimate, vulnerable material, so I don’t really have anything to compare that to,” said Krill. “I just know for this project, knowing that only women were on set, I felt really safe. I didn’t really feel any inhibitions in that way. It’s like a woman’s change room: you don’t feel objected. It’s a different energetic feeling.”
“We were all each other’s’ backbone, helping each other out, falling in love with each other, invested and curious,” said Linder, who was taking on her first major role in a feature. “It was powerful in a way.”
The two actresses felt immediate chemistry with one another, something imperative to make the film work. They felt comfort too, assured that their honest moments together could infuse into the story while knowing both were on this new journey together, one both difficult and rewarding.
“I was terrified,” said Natalie, laughing. The role after all contained many physically and emotionally revealing moments “So much anxiety and so nervous. I knew I had to do it, knew I wanted to do it. And then it’s after when you start preparing and going into it that I started having mild panic attacks, in a good way.”
One scene in particular stands out for Linder, a moment that comes towards the end of the film at the height of the connection and exploration between Jasmine and Dallas. It involved navigating a bathtub, and Linder recalls at that moment, “This is what I want to do for the rest of my life. I can’t put my finger on. That moment, there was something very fulfilling about going through such a challenging scene. I had to take like 45 minutes to snap out of it. It was really hard but most amazing feeling. It was weird.”
The success of the film rests in its authenticity, its different perspective from which to tell stories about female connections. “Sex, lust, love, female orgasm, you don’t get to see that on screen,” said Mullen. “You don’t get a raw depiction of losing yourself. Knowing what women go through when that happens, it’s spectacular, in all of its qualities.”