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The would-be standout lesbian film at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival proves to be an interesting if challenging experience

If you're willing to stick with Tuli, you'll be rewarded. The film, set in a remote Phillipine province, is slow going at first, and virtually everyone at the Sundance press screening walked out in the first hour. I'll admit my own doubts, as amidst all those scenes of bathing, circumcision, and passion plays, I wondered, "Isn't this supposed to be the lesbian film at the festival?" Except for a young woman, Daisy, who offers to play the father role in a game of house, the film is so foreign as to bypass most of the usual signposts of that (or any) genre.

It's not until later, when Daisy offers another game of house played in a much more intimate way, that things start to build momentum in Tuli. Still, I'd argue in favor of that first half, which slowly introduces us to a completely unfamiliar way of life and a male-dominated, country village that leaves very few options for the girls that live there. Daisy is an exception in two ways: she has inherited the role of circumcising all the young men in the village, and she bristles against expectations that she must then marry one of them. "Let's show all the men here our world doesn't revolve around their balls," she tells her female friend Botchok. Well, if anyone would know balls, it's her.

When I interviewed Sundance programmer John Cooper about the diminished presence of gay films in this year's lineup, he suggested that the time for coming-out films, as well as a special subset he called "gays are people too" films, may be on the wane. Ironically, Tuli is both, though told in such an exotic way that everything old becomes new again. Daisy and her mother eventually take in Botchok, and the two girls begin an intimate relationship that the rest of the village comes to see as a rebuke, even a curse. Things get even more fraught when Daisy decides that a pregnancy will solve most of their problems, and these very Catholic girls, ruling out an immaculate conception, decide to bring a timid Joseph into their unconventional home. The men in the village may not know what to make of Daisy, who flips every tradition they know on their head, and the Sundance audience may not know what to make of Tuli, either. But if anyone claims this long film ought to be cut, I'd encourage them not to mess with the town circumciser.

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Kyle Buchanan