Thursday, August 8, 2019

Nicolas Roeg and Bernardo Bertolucci’s Transgressive Legacy, The Fearless Cinema of Claire Denis & “Cut! Is This the Death of Sex in Cinema?”


With the passing this last year of both Nicolas Roeg and Bernardo Bertolucci film circles mourned the cultural loss and contemplated the possible end of a era of widely viewed, transgressive, politically, and sexually liberated cinema. In the case of the senior Italian director behind such films as “Last Tango in Paris”, “The Spider’s Stratagem” and “The Conformist”, he was hailed in the pages of The Guardian as, “Bernardo Bertolucci: The Brilliant Last Emperor of Highbrow Cinema”. While the British director, known for “Walkabout”, “Don’t Look Now”, “The Man Who Fell to Earth”, produced a body of work defined by the casting of music celebrity, sharp editing and disjunct, non-linear narratives. He was considered by many, “Nicolas Roeg: A Daring Film-maker of Passionate and Visceral Brilliance”. Much in the way of Bertolucci, Roeg's thematic content was often challenging, yet both directors were revered for their willingness to depict and explore the rough-hewn aspects of life and interpersonal relationships, such as in Suzanne Moore’s opinion piece for The Guardian, “Nicolas Roeg Created a Filmic World of Sex and Shock. He Messed Me up – and I Loved Him”. What the two shared in was their painstaking observed depictions of interpersonal relations. Not shying away from the messier corners of adult consensuality, they showed sex more directly, but also more honestly and obsessively than other directors of their time. Particularly in their most notable and groundbreaking work, in this case Roeg’s “Bad Timing” and Bertolucci’s aforementioned, “Last Tango in Paris”. Consequently for each there is no shortage of material to consider in the, “Sex Factor: Nicolas Roeg and Bernardo Bertolucci’s Transgressive Legacy”.

In her observation on the diminishing of content in the modern era that might traverse such complex and charged territory, Catherine Shoard selects “The Fearless Cinema of Claire Denis” as the antithesis to these trends. Expressly the depiction of sex, sexual power and psychology in the director’s newest, "Claire Denis on High Life, Robert Pattinson, and Putting Juliette Binoche in a “F*ckbox”. The film’s sexual and corporeal focus on a unflinching exploration of "The Fleshy Frontier", and past traditions in related is cinema are considered in John Semley's piece for The Baffler. These multifaceted bodily, sexual, and psychological tensions also succinctly delineated in Charles Bramesco’s review, “High Life: Orgasmic Brilliance in Deepest Space with Robert Pattinson”. Plumbing further, Shoard’s piece for The Guardian delves into the current trend away from depictions of nuanced interpersonal content, which has made anything but values-defined expressions of sexual relations (and their biological and psychological underpinnings), anathema. Such is the cultural moment that a prohibitive MPAA rating, "trigger warning" supplied by the exhibitor, or outright retraction and editing of material in response to poor audience reception, is not unheard of. As Shoard illustrates over numerous observations and citations in, “Cut! Is this the Death of Sex in Cinema?", the reasons being concurrently made complicated and narrow-minded by the two sides of a polarized political landscape. Wherein sex has become that much more weaponized in its entanglement with identity and representation, and the discomfort experienced by audiences who feel their identity politics not complimentarily represented defining no small part of their enjoyment, or even acceptance, of thematic and psychological content in fiction. Or, as award-winning Man Booker shortlister, and recipient of Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction, author Zadie Smith succinctly stated in a recent interview; "Identity is a Pain in the Arse".