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DAMAGE;BODY OF EVIDENCE;THE LOVER

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If you want to see how weird our culture can be when it comes to sex-how caught up in cycles of repression and obsession-your local video store is currently offering the proof. Louis Malle’s Damage (1992, New Line, $95.95), Jean-Jacques Annaud’s The Lover (1992, MGM/UA, $94.99), and Uli Edel’s Body of Evidence (1992, MGM/UA, $94.99) are all being released to tape this week-in two versions apiece: the R-rated cuts that played in theaters, and longer versions that were threatened with an NC-17 by the MPAA’s rating board. In each case, the difference illustrates the idiocy of trying to quantify sex in the first place. What the ratings game is really about these days is maximizing profits: Since many theaters won’t book nor newspapers advertise NC-17 films, studios are loath to release anything hairier than an R. But video companies can take advantage of the medium’s at-home privacy, and an unrated version is a bonanza they’d be foolish to ignore. They get to take the high road by advertising the alternate cut as the director’s unsullied vision and the low road by proposing, in effect, Wanna look at something you’re not supposed to see? Home video restoreth what the theatrical release taketh away, and both sides make money. So does it matter that in some cases the shorter version turns out to be the better movie? Has damage really been done to Damage, for instance? The major difference between the R-rated and unrated versions is a single shot in a sex scene between Jeremy Irons and Juliette Binoche. Forced to cut, Malle made his anger clear to anyone who would listen, but what’s equally clear is how ludicrous that shot is: The lovers, coitally entangled in a doorway, flop about as if engaged in a game of naked Twister. Suggesting Monty Python more than mounting passion, the shot sums up Malle’s critical mistake in adapting Josephine Hart’s novel, about a British Member of Parliament who embarks on a ruinous affair with his son’s fiancee. See, if a movie is about the consequences of repression, the characters risk looking silly when they pop loose. And Irons and Binoche look very silly indeed: They go from darting cow eyes at each other across rooms to huffing and puffing and hanging by curtain rods in the space of a few scenes. Damage isn’t unworthy-Irons is always fascinating to watch and Oscar-nominated Miranda Richardson provokes goose pimples as his wronged wife-but the characters

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