Madame X: An Absolute Ruler (Ulrike Ottinger, Germany, 1977, 141 min.)
Ulrike Ottinger has a larger body of work than almost any other lesbian filmmaker, and her rarely seen first feature contains most of the elements that make her work so unique and ahead of its time. In this extravagantly aestheticized, postmodern pirate film she appropriates the male genre for feminist allegory. Madame X — the cruel, uncrowned ruler of the China seas — promises "gold, love, and adventure" to all women who'll leave their humdrum lives behind. Gathered aboard her ship, Orlando, are a range of types: a frumpy housewife, a glamorous diva, a psychologist, a very German outdoorswoman, a bush pilot, an artist (played by Yvonne Rainer), and a "native" beauty. Their utopia devolves into betrayal and self-destruction—leading to eventual transformation—as the power games of the outside world are ritualized among the women.