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Cinema riding high on sex

A wave of sexually explicit cinema proves some helmers want to shock their audiences, and in times like these when pornography is freely available, the writers and the directors are forced to push the boundaries.

world cinema Updated: Feb 27, 2014 17:13 IST
Gautaman Bhaskaran

There has been a wave of sexually explicit films in recent years. Lars Von Trier’s latest creation,

Nymphomaniac

, about a sex addict has been much hyped about and much pilloried. Von Trier is of course not new to this game: his earlier Idiots had unsimulated sex scenes. Nymphomaniac too. But of course, here in his latest movie, he uses body doubles for genital close-ups and for those candid shots of sexual intercourse.


A still from Nymphomaniac.


During recent media interviews, the producer of

Nymphomaniac

, Louise Vesth, said: "We shot the actors pretending to have sex and then had the body doubles, who really did have sex, and in post-production we digitally imposed the two. So above the waist it will be the stars and below the waist it will be the doubles."



The lead actor of the movie, Charlotte Gainsbourg, told the media earlier, "I was very, very nervous at first. I needed it to be very clear that actors were not going to perform sex. As long as that was clear, I was fine…The sex wasn't hard. For me it was all the masochistic scenes that were embarrassing, a little humiliating. The b*** job, the same thing, a bit humiliating too. Then having a prosthetic vagina … two hours in the morning with someone working down there, that was the hard part."



Alain Guiraudie’s Stranger by the Lake is even more sexually graphic. Christophe Paou, who portrays Michael, a handsome young man, meets a younger Franck at a holiday resort, and they get into a homosexual relationship. Paou remarked that he was uncomfortable, and was not sure whether he could do those scenes. But Paou managed it, also because the set had a very small crew and there was absolute privacy.



Like with Nymphomaniac, body doubles were used in Stranger by the Lake. But here in this case, the actors were not porn stars – who were used for Von Trier’s film.



But sometimes, one never knows whether a body double has been used. In Abdellatif Kechiche’s Blue is the Warmest Colour, this was never disclosed. Maybe, to heighten the sense of authenticity. In an interview, one of the two actors who plays a lesbian lover, Lea Seydoux, said that one had to give everything one had. One felt like a prostitute and it was sometimes terrible to fake orgasm for six hours, she added.



There are of course double standards in the industry with women asked to strip to the skin much more than men. As Seydoux quipped: “There isn't a day that goes by where one doesn't see a casting call asking for nudity or sex scenes, and it's more often that it's required of the female characters. It feels as if the women are written to look nice or be the sexual element. There is a lot of, 'You will be expected to be in your underwear', or, 'You will be naked.'"



However, explicitness is nothing very new. Michael Winterbottom’s 9 Songs was described by some as sheer pornography. Vincent Gallo’s The Brown Bunny (which competed at Cannes in 2003) had unsimulated oral sex. The movie drew gasps at the press screening there.



But I suppose some helmers want to shock their audiences, and in times like these when pornography is freely available, the writers and the directors are forced to push the boundaries. And actors – who are but pawns in this game – get hurt some times, and at other times, they are ridiculed for having dropped their innerwear.


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