Graphic gay sex stirs controversy at Cannes

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10:47 PM May 23rd, 2013

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May 23rd, 2013 10:47 PM

From left, producer Lene Borglum, actor Matthew Newman, actress Kristin Scott Thomas, director Nicolas Winding Refn, actor Vithaya Pansringarm, and musician Cliff Martinez listen during a press conference for the film Only God Forgives at the 66th international film festival, in Cannes, southern France, Wednesday, May 22, 2013. AP

CANNES, France — Explicit gay sex has hit the big screen at the Cannes film festival in movies targeting mainstream audiences that stir controversy and spare the viewer nothing.

Critics described the non-simulated sex in “Blue is the Warmest Colour,” which has its premiere Thursday, as “show-stopping” and “the most explosively graphic lesbian sex in recent memory.”

Numerous sex scenes in the homoerotic “Stranger at the Lake” have been termed “hardcore.”

And Steven Soderbergh’s Liberace biopic “Behind the Candelabra,” starring Michael Douglas and Matt Damon, also includes depictions of gay sex that push boundaries.

In an era of greater tolerance towards different sexual orientations, the films coincide with the emergence of gay marriage as a top political issue and a sense among filmmakers that audiences are no longer automatically turned off by same-sex love stories.

“Blue is the Warmest Colour” (“La Vie d’Adele, Chapitres 1 et 2″), about a love affair between a Frenchwoman and a teenage girl, is one of 20 films competing for the festival’s top Palme d’Or prize.

Tunisian-born French director Abdellatif Kechiche said his film was not intended as a statement.

“I didn’t want to make a militant film with a message to deliver about a specific topic, in this case homosexuality. (But) it can of course be seen from that angle. It doesn’t bother me,” he told reporters on Thursday.

The film, instead, was primarily a story about a passionate affair between two people, not specifically between two women, he added in production notes.

It was simply “a love story with all the beauty that that involves. I had more of a feeling that I was telling the story of a couple,” he said.

And he explained that he created the sex scenes with the intention of showing “something that I found beautiful.”

“We shot the scenes as if they were paintings. We spent a lot of time lighting them so that they are really beautiful,” he added.

Kechiche’s film has received rave reviews from critics.

The movie would surely “raise eyebrows with its show-stopping scenes of non-simulated female copulation,” the Hollywood Reporter said, praising it as “poignantly handled” with “phenomenal” acting.

Entertainment industry magazine Variety described it as “a searingly intimate character study marked by the most explosively graphic lesbian sex scenes in recent memory.”

Describing the sex scenes as “scorching,” it added that “audience titillation, though certainly there for the taking, couldn’t be more beside the point.”

The equally graphic “Stranger at the Lake,” by French director Alain Guiraudie, meanwhile tells the story of a man who finds himself attracted to a local killer, set against the backdrop of a serene lakeside beauty spot.

The film had its premiere at Cannes on Saturday in new-talent section Un Certain Regard.

But Guiraudie said he had not set out to be provocative.

Cinema draws artificial distinctions between romantic love and graphic sex, categorizing the latter as pornography no matter what the context, he said.

“I wanted to mix the two. I wasn’t looking to have beautiful love scenes interrupted by pornographic vignettes,” he said.

“I wanted to mix all that, so that it all goes together, that the sex be beautiful,” he added.

Soderbergh’s “Behind the Candelabra” meanwhile is due to be seen by a mainstream audience when it is broadcast by US cable TV giant HBO. The filmmaker has said Hollywood shied away from funding his film because it was “too gay”.

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