From the uninhibited teen sex of Larry Clark’s Bully to the hardcore Thelma & Louise action of the art-house sensation Baise-Moi, movies have lately been approaching a level of frankness that goes beyond even unrated late-night cable fare. And no thanks to Tim Roth or Gary Oldman (who both reportedly turned down the lead role), a new British drama has just broken one of cinema’s remaining taboos.
Intimacy, about two strangers who meet for adulterous sex in a London flat, is thought to be the first non-porn English-language film to feature real fellatio. And the people you see, about 30 minutes into the film, aren’t body doubles; they’re legit actors Mark Rylance (Angels & Insects) and Kerry Fox (Shallow Grave). ”To me, oral sex is a beautiful thing, a proof of love,” says French director Patrice Chereau (Queen Margot), who adds that he sought actors willing to get messy with the less-than-glamorous details of sex, like carpet-burned elbows.
Rylance, best known in his native England as a stage actor and artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, says the explicitness is justified because it reflects the ”warts-and-all” honesty of Intimacy’s source material by Hanif Kureishi. Says Fox, who won the Best Actress award at the Berlin film festival, ”I am so bored with sex scenes that have no function except to show, Oh, these characters are in love. The obligatory love scene in a film is written: ‘They make love’…whereas all the other scenes have far more description. The intention [with Intimacy] was to get that realism. Sex is such an important part of our existence, and film is an appropriate place to look at it.”
That’s a philosophy shared by French filmmaker Catherine Breillat, whose 1999 drama of a woman’s sexual awakening, Romance, contained graphic sex, and whose current Fat Girl features its 15-year-old ingenue being seduced by a clearly aroused college-age guy. ”I think it is absolutely my task to show what other people hide,” Breillat says. ”Men, too, are objects of desire. But it is very difficult to find an actor who is able to express desire — and very precisely.”
Director Chen Kaige, whose upcoming Killing Me Softly (with Heather Graham and Joseph Fiennes) is said to feature very steamy couplings, disagrees, insisting that audiences don’t necessarily want to see this level of explicitness: ”Suggestion is more powerful.” And suggestion will just have to do in Hollywood, where new movies such as Monster’s Ball and Unfaithful could still push the boundaries of an R rating.
Chereau, who says he was surprised his U.S. distributor, Empire Pictures, didn’t balk at releasing Intimacy unrated, makes no apologies for what he put his stars through. ”I didn’t ask the actors to show me a particular part of their body, but I asked them not to hide anything. They knew exactly where the camera was,” he says. ”When I see the film now, I ask myself, maybe it was wrong. [But] really, I see two actors doing their jobs.”