Film: High libido on the Lido

Has cinema finally learned how to do sex? Visitors to this year's Venice Film Festival have been finding out.

In the run-up to this year's Venice Film Festival, which continues on the Lido until 11 September, the buzz was all about sex. Some wag in the Italian press even renamed it the Venice Porn Festival. Among the erotic treats in store for Lido audiences were Korean sado-masochism, Italian widescreen fellatio and the sexual fantasies of middle-aged Belgians. If new festival director Alberto Barbera - who had previously turned the Turin Film Festival from a tiny provincial event into an important second- league date on the European calendar - was angling for press coverage of the "Sex in Venice" variety, he certainly got it. But he was also offering festival audiences a golden opportunity. In 11 days on the Lido, with a programme stretching from the glossiest Hollywood pap to the furthest arthouse fringe, we were being offered the chance to find out whether cinema had finally learned how to do sex.

Cinema, of course, is a dream factory. But it is a dream that claims - in most cases - to look like life. Neo-realism came and went, but it did encourage the expectation that, outside of certain genres and special cases (sci-fi, film noir, Peter Greenaway), actors should walk, talk and eat like ordinary people. Greta Garbo's uncannily mannered voice signalled the divide between film and life like a neon sign. These days, voice coaches contrive to provide even Michael Caine (in Lasse Hallstrom's The Cider House Rules) with a rural New England accent to go with his role, keeping his Cockney staccato down like a ferret in a shoebox.

Sex coaches, however, are in short supply. ("Look, Michael, this is how we do it in Maine. Just watch, and then copy me"). From Last Tango in Paris to Basic Instinct, the portrayal of sex in the cinema has generally been stylised to a greater or lesser extent (Last Tango was arthouse erotic choreography, but it was still choreography). All men keep on going for at least three or four rounds, all women are groaners.

The festival opened on 1 September with the European premiere of the late Stanley Kubrick's hymn to family values, Eyes Wide Shut, but Kubrick should have taken a leaf out of Frederic Fonteyne's book. The young Belgian director was one of the sex-watchers' Great White Hopes, as his film (in competition) was entitled Une Liaison Pornographique. The affair narrated in the film begins with an Internet advertisement, in which a good-looking but no longer young woman (played with some finesse by Nathalie Baye) appeals for a man who is prepared to help her fulfil a very unusual sexual fantasy. A volunteer (Sergi Lopez) duly answers, they meet in a cafe, and begin a series of sexual encounters in a hotel.

The names of these two characters is not the only piece of information the film withholds. At no point does the audience discover what the woman's kinky fantasy was. The camera enters the hotel room for the first time only when they begin to fall in love and decide they would like to try doing it straight. From there on in this is a love story, told with a good deal of sensitivity, not only in its Gallic grasp of emotional nuance, but also in the way it shows sex. At a certain point, she is on top and he realises that he is about to, um, do the discourtesy of getting to the end before she does. So he puts a pillow over his head; takes it off, looks at her, realises he is still too close to the edge, puts it back on again. It's a funny, believable touch, driven home by something the man says later on: "In films, people always achieve orgasm at the same time... and in films, sex is either heaven or hell. In life, it's generally somewhere between the two."

Sex and hell are closely related in Buddy Boy, a twisted slice of Americana from first-time director Mark Hanlon, Francis, a psychologically disturbed loner and devout Catholic, finds a way of spying on the pretty girl who lives in the apartment opposite. Though they meet and begin an awkward affair, Francis eventually retreats back to his spy-hole across the road; he's much happier watching. British actor Aidan Gillen does an impressive job of conveying Francis' oscillation between the need to be loved and the need for emotional isolation: we, in turn, alternate between sympathy and wanting to bang his head on the floor.

The fellatio mentioned above is only one of the sexual permutations on offer in Davide Ferrario's Guardami (Look At Me), a love story of sorts about an Italian porn actress who gets cancer. Though Ferrario is a visually inventive director, the film is confused: it doesn't really know what point it is trying to make about the sex industry, except that ordinary people with kids and mothers work in it. In the end, the setting becomes exploitative in its own right - you get to see an awful lot of gratuitous porn footage (and tittage and bummage), but because it's a "serious" film, you can take your girlfriend. The most interesting thing about the film - apart from the shape of one of the virile members - is the way Italy now seems to be pushing back the frontiers of what gets past the censors. This was the country, remember, whose moral arbiters not only contrived to ban Last Tango in Paris, but even managed to deprive the film's director, Bernardo Bertolucci, of his voting rights.

If any one film was touted as the real festival shocker - and the rightful heir to Last Tango - it was Gojitmal (Lies) by Korean director Jang Sun Woo. Here at last, we were promised, was the real thing: a film about an obsessive and increasingly sado-masochistic sexual relationship between a successful sculptor and a high-school student half his age, shot mainly on a handheld camera. Here at last, we were to be shown two people doing it, without a filter.

Well, we certainly saw plenty of sex - over an hour of it (though, ingeniously, there was hardly a glimpse of a sexual organ). The interest, if that is the word, was provided by the variations in the objects the two lovers hit each other with. To quote the press book: "Their sado-masochistic endeavours intensify emotionally and creatively, passing from cords to broomsticks to tree branches".

During the course of the press screening, nervous titters gave way to loud guffaws. The loudest was reserved for the scene when the lovers are foraging for promising bits of wood in a public park, and the man says "Bring the bit with the nail in". The director had no problem with this reaction. "I wanted the audience to laugh as much as possible", he said at the following day's press conference. "This is a funny film, but sad at the same time". He also claimed that the film was supposed to be boring ("so are life and love"), that it "abolishes the difference between pornography and Buddhist nirvana", and that one of the main points of this film was that it went against the Korean orthodoxy that people should spend their days working, "especially now that the Korean economy is under the control of the International Monetary Fund". Now that was an angle that never once occurred to me.

A film like Gojitmal is a great advertisement for the Hollywood approach to sex. If this is realism, then perfect timing, perfect bodies and no worries about whether it's the right time of the month come to seem like very necessary fictions.

News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Relocation, relocation: Zawe Ashton travels the pathway to Northampton
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Three was launched a little over five years ago with the slogan: “Three, is a magic number, yes it is.”

BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital move

TV
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Armie Hammer in the new film of ‘The Lone Ranger’

TV
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

    EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

    An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

    The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
    How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

    Heavy weather

    What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
    World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

    World Bodypainting Festival 2015

    Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
    alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

    Don't call us nerds

    Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
    How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

    How to find gold

    Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
    Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

    Not born in the USA

    Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
    10 best balsamic vinegars

    10 best balsamic vinegars

    Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
    Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

    Greece referendum

    Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
    Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

    7/7 bombings anniversary

    Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

    Versace haute couture review

    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
    No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

    No hope and no jobs in Gaza

    So the young risk their lives and run for it
    Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

    Fashion apps

    Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'