Shortbus (18)

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The Independent Culture

In Hollywood films, sex is usually a cross between between a ballet and an Olympic event, while art-house directors prefer to see it as a sordid confirmation of what loathsome beasts we human beings are.

Shortbus takes a different position. Quite a few different positions, in fact. Here, for once, carnality is presented as a source of relief, frustration and healthy exercise, and something which may involve three interlocked naked men singing "The Star-Spangled Banner".

The main characters are a married sex therapist who has never had an orgasm, and two gay lovers who might be ready to bring in a third party. Their stories come together, so to speak, in a weekly New York "salon" where the guests socialise, watch cabaret acts, and, more importantly, have orgies. Not much is left to the imagination. When we see two characters getting intimate, the actors themselves are getting intimate. Shortbus is the most graphically sexual film ever to make it into a mainstream cinema.

But that's "graphic", not "pornographic". The couplings and triplings aren't there to titillate; they're there because sex is what the film is about. It'd work perfectly well even if it didn't drip with quite so many bodily fluids, partly because of its amusing mockery of New Yorkers' pretensions and neuroses, and partly because the people getting their kit off happen to be flawed individuals with plausible emotional dilemmas. Frankly, it's less shocking to see explicit sex these days than it is to see a heartfelt comedy-drama with zinging one-liners and appealing characters.

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