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Last Updated: Tuesday, 19 October, 2004, 15:47 GMT 16:47 UK
Real sex at the cinema
By Chris Heard
BBC News Online entertainment staff

Baise Moi
Baise Moi was banned in Australia but passed in the UK

British director Michael Winterbottom's sexually-explicit new film, 9 Songs, is set to cause controversy after being passed by the UK's film watchdog.

9 Songs is among a slew of provocative movies released during the past few years featuring real, rather than simulated, sex.

While simulated sex does not generally present as much of a problem with censors, real sex on screen is almost guaranteed to hit headlines, while reflecting how different countries tackle censorship.

French director Catherine Breillat's 1999 film Romance was banned in several countries for its graphic sexual acts.

The first mainstream movie to feature an erect penis, it cast Italian hardcore porn star Rocco Siffredi in the story of a female schoolteacher's sexual adventures.

However, in the UK, Romance was passed by censors without cuts for its cinema release, despite its explicit content. Later in the year it was passed for video release with a one-second cut to delete sight of a sex act.

The Piano Teacher
The Piano Teacher shocked critics but scooped awards
The 2000 French film Baise Moi, directed by female film-makers Virginie Despentes and former porn actress Coralie Trinh Thi, caused similar shockwaves for its hardcore sex scenes.

It chronicled a violent road trip undertaken by two mistreated women - one raped, the other having witnessed her best friend's murder - as they sought revenge on men and society.

Baise Moi (translated by its distributor as Rape Me) was classified 18 for adults only by the British Board of Film Classification, which ordered a cut to a scene of violent rape. It was banned in Australia.

The directors justified the graphic imagery by saying it was used to celebrate female sexuality rather than to excite men.

1955: The Garden of Eden becomes the first British film to get round nudity restrictions by claiming to be a naturism documentary
1976: Pasolini's Salo, an art house film based on de Sade's 120 Days of Sodom, is refused a certificate. A shortened version is seized by police
1988: Last Tango in Paris is passed uncut for video by the BBFC who now regard it as acceptable for viewing in the home

A year later, in a landmark ruling for an English language sex film, the Patrice Chereau movie Intimacy (co-written by Hanif Kureishi) was given an 18 certificate in the UK despite many explicit scenes.

The Cannes film festival in 2001 saw the screening of The Piano Teacher (directed by Michael Haneke), in which Isabelle Huppert plays the title role of Erika, a lonely and isolated character still living with her overprotective mother.

In the film, Erika finds solace in sado-masochistic fantasy, something which shocked some critics but lifted the Grand Jury prize as well as best actress for Huppert.

A year later, British censors passed French director Bertrand Bonello's The Pornographer, an arthouse look at the French pornography industry, but demanded a cut to one graphic sex scene.

Censors also passed the bleak French movie Irreversible for cinema release, despite extreme violence and a real-time nine-minute rape scene.

Michael Winterbottom
Nine Songs director Michael Winterbottom said it was a reaction to "prudish" films
The film by director Gaspar Noe was a revenge story, based around the especially brutal rape. Some 250 people at a screening in Cannes were so sickened that they left before the end, some needing medical attention.

Noe said the film tackled the hideous nature of rape, and if the UK could not deal with a scene exposing sexual violence he would rather the film be banned than cut.

9 Songs, which was first seen in Cannes earlier this year, is based around the relationship between two young people, Matt and Lisa.

The film has been defended by its lead actor Kieran O'Brien, who co-stars with US actress Margo Stilley. But O'Brien concedes it is graphic and shocking.

"People who have seen it, even though they are forewarned about how explicit it is, come out of the cinema saying they can't believe that it's so explicit," he said. "People who say they find it offensive are liars."

The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) said before it studied 9 Songs that the film would not be subject to special criteria.

"We don't normally allow depictions of unsimulated sex in an 18 film, unless they can be exceptionally justified by the context of the film," said Craig Lapper, the board's chief assistant in charge of policy.

'Sex film' to be released uncut
18 Oct 04  |  Entertainment
Star defends 'sex film' at Cannes
18 May 04  |  Entertainment
'Rape film' released uncut
21 Oct 02  |  Entertainment
Australian cinemas fight film ban
13 May 02  |  Entertainment


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