Sunday, November 12, 2023

Yorgos Lanthimos' "Poor Things" and Ira Sachs' "Passages" Streaming on Mubi and at SIFF Cinema: Dec 14 - Jan 4 | "The Pleasure Principle" | Sight & Sound

As a follow-up to Catherine Shoard's 2019 editorial for The Guardian, "Cut! Is This the Death of Sex in Cinema?", Christina Newland's "The Pleasure Principle", for Sight & Sound tackles the newest Ira Sachs film, "Passages", which received an NC-17 rating in the United States due to its honest and frank depictions of sex. 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 of on-screen sex is not unheard of. Shoard's piece for The Guardian illustrates over numerous observations and citations, the reasons for this 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 defines no small part of their enjoyment, or even acceptance, of thematic and psychological content in fiction. In the eyes of a currently influential constituency, for whom artistic merit must be allied to a certain branch of moral and political virtue, there are vast realms of the erotic, suggestive, and sexual material on screen that will not pass such demands. Regardless of said material's truth or honesty in representing the complexity of these matters in relation to life. In the case of the Ira Sachs film, what followed was an outcry in response from the domestic distributor, Mubi, and the film's director, "Director Slams MPAA Decision as ‘Cultural Censorship that’s Quite Dangerous’". Sachs speaks with Newland for the British Film Institute on the rating and the cultural and political moment that his film has navigated; "It’s really about a form of cultural censorship that is quite dangerous, particularly in a culture which is already battling, in such extreme ways, the possibility of LGBT imagery to exist”. NC-17 movies have gotten lots of attention in recent months thanks to the release of Andrew Dominik's "Blonde" a Marilyn Monroe biopic that scored Ana de Armas an Oscar nomination for best actress, and "Infinity Pool" which director Branden Cronenberg re-cut so that it could be released with an R rating. Sachs did no such thing with "Passages"."

Newland continues in the pages of Sight & Sound; "It’s possible that a combination of factors, both culture-wide and industry-specific, have contributed to this odd moment of both the avoidance of and a fixation on sex acts on screen. Initial hesitation around on-set safety post-MeToo, and a sense of discomfort around sensitive topics, has perhaps been fueled by social media pearl-clutching and a Gen Z backlash against the idea of ‘sex-positive’ feminism." The latter is supported by recent statistics, like those highlighted in NPR's coverage "Gen Z Wants Less Sex in Their TV and Movies" of the UCLA study, which featured such descriptors as the content being found, "Icky, Pointless, and Invasive", wherein half of those polled were, "Turned Off by Onscreen Sex". Nonetheless, two high profile sex-positive arthouse films are endeavoring to contradict these trends. They arrived this year in the form of the previously mentioned "Ira Sachs Thorny Love Triangle Drama", and "Emma Stone's Sexual Adventure in Yorgos Lanthimos’s Virtuoso Comic Epic". Winning major awards at Venice and Sundance, and garnered notable praise in the cinephile press, the artists involved have made their stance in relation to on-screen sex very clear, with "Adèle Exarchopoulos: ‘Film Shoots are Like Little Summer Love Stories’, and "Lanthimos’s Poor Things Fuels Speculation of Sex Scene’s Return to Cinema". At the press conference in Venice before the film's premiere, Yorgos Lanthimos posed the question; “Why is there no sex in movies? It was a very intrinsic part of the Alasdair Gray novel itself, her freedom in everything, including sexuality”, Lanthimos said of the film’s sex scenes. He added: “It was very important for me to not make a film that was going to be prudish because that would be completely betraying the main character. We had to be confident Emma had to have no shame about her body, nudity, engaging in those scenes, and she understood that right away". In this tale of Emma Stone's recently reawakened Bella Baxter, Lanthimos draws on traditions from classic European cinema like Georges Franju’s "Eyes Without a Face", obvious references from gothic literature in Mary Shelley's legendary monster, David Lynch's depiction of Joseph Merrick, and Werner Herzog’s gloriously naive explorations of life via Kaspar Hauser, and along the way, "Interrogating Gender Dynamics and Sexuality from Nearly Every Angle". Our chance will come next month at SIFF Cinema, when "'Poor Things' Brings Hot Sex and Stone-cold Brilliance to the Screen" After an awkward MeToo hiatus, films are showing intimacy in messy, complicated ways again and in a late addition, The Guardian's Adrian Horton argues, "Why it Was a Good Year for Sex On Screen". As well as the question posed, "Provocative Sex is Back at the Movies. But are We Ready for It?", by Alexandra Kleeman, Guggenheim Fellow and author in the pages of The New York Times.