Voyages around her father

Bertolucci's 'Stealing Beauty' looks set to make Liv Tyler a star. So what is it about virgins and middle-aged film directors? By Charlotte O'Sullivan

Bernardo Bertolucci's Stealing Beauty, which opens shortly, is a film about the sexual awakening of a sweet young girl. It's not the first of its kind, nor likely to be the last, which makes it all the more fitting that the film's virginal heroine, Lucy, asks: "Ever get the feeling you're being watched?" You bet. In the last half of this century, cinema - like an impotent Dracula - has struggled to tear itself away, clocking up thousands of hours of light and shade to capture the ultimate in blood lust.

Girls on the verge of a nervous consummation are ideal box-office material, as teen-friendly flicks like Blue Lagoon or Pretty in Pink have shown. Stealing Beauty, however, merits a tucking in with more adult, European bedfellows. Among those who have brought art house credibility to the exacting study of cuspish virgins are directors such as Eric Rohmer (Pauline at the Beach), Fernando Trueba (Belle Epoque), Gerard Lauzier (Mon Pere, Ce Heros). And their findings are remarkably similar, involving grave- eyed, idealistic heroines, skinny yet budding, sensitive yet bored, precocious yet oh, so naive.

Like low-budget adverts for bourgeois summer holidays, these films seem always to be set near beaches or golden orchards or swimming pools, allowing maximum exposure of healthy brown flesh. In Eric Rohmer's 1983 art house hit Pauline on the Beach, for instance, 14-year-old sage Pauline spends her time in a bikini. Ditto his Claire's Knee, in which pert little Laura's grasshopper thighs are constantly displayed.

This sensual version of virginity, au naturelle, cleaves more to the days of medieval chivalry than of satellite TV. Economic realities are touched on for unwilling seconds at a time; venereal disease and unwanted pregnancies are also banished. At the same time, the past, even when linked to a specific historical moment, is stripped of its religious or social context. Take, for example, Trueba's recent sun-dappled sex comedy Belle Epoque, or Merchant and Ivory's Room With a View, in which the virgins' dilemma is always pretty, never painful.

The wishful nature of such movies does not end here. Almost all contain a crucial older man, a literal or symbolic father figure. Thus in Stealing Beauty, Lucy, played by MTV pro Liv Tyler, arrives in Tuscany determined to lose her virginity, but can only do so when she knows who her father is and, by the by, has been undressed by him.

It's a common device. In Stay As You Are, directed by Italy's Alberto Lattuada, lupine Nastassja Kinski plays opposite lusty Marcello Mastroianni, a greying architect who, we are led to suspect, is actually her daddy. Meanwhile, in Mon Pere, Ce Heros, Gerard Depardieu plays a father with a blooming little girl (pouty Marie Gillain), who pretends to be her shady but dashing lover. As it transpires, he's the one who gains control, even writing love letters on her behalf. No wonder that when Veronique finally flees the nest, he croons to his fiancee: "Make me a baby and make sure it's a girl." You get the picture. "She came to me a girl, she left me a vooman." In all these movies the daughters are allowed to walk into the sunset with someone their own age. Yet their fathers, metaphorically, penetrate first. And baby girl says it feels lovely.

Some might say that including a father figure is a nifty way for a middle- aged director to involve himself in the proceedings. Indeed, what better way could there be to justify in artistic terms his snoopy presence at the bedside, especially given that the majority of these fellows are old enough to be the ingenue's father (grandfather, even)? Bertolucci is now 56, Rohmer 76 - these men are really dealing with the changes in their own lives. As Maurice Chevalier once sang of little girls: "Youth is the thing! Stay close to the young and a little of it rubs off."

The young virgin's lack of experience is another plus. Tyler has attempted to identify the attraction of her character for men. "She's not this big sex symbol at all," she says. "It's more her youth that excites them, and the change." But change itself is not always popular. How many saucy films about octogenarians are there? Or, for that matter, the menopause - Confessions of a Hysterectomist or Sweaty Brigitte, anyone? The obvious criticism of male directors who duck and dive around the subject of hymens is that they're frightened of grown women, turned on by what females don't know.

This is not to condemn any director who explores the subject of green teen virginity, for it doesn't have to be lush and uncomplicated. During the Sixties, for example, influenced by feminism and loaded with angst, cinema seemed constantly to be pointing out the misery and artificiality of the great divide between virgin and non-virgin, Kazan's Splendor in the Grass and Bergman's The Virgin Spring being particularly fine examples. Similarly, Roman Polanski could only detect the foul stink of the "ripening state". He noted wryly of Catherine Deneuve, "She looks like a professional virgin...the niece of a man who'd make her sit in his lap". Not surprisingly, then, virginity is a terrifying state in Repulsion, with all men lunging like wolves and the virgin herself psychotic.

No, if anything, the recent spate of sensual "voyages round my virgin" have more in common with American Fifties romantic comedies and musicals. Vincente Minnelli's classic Gigi, for instance, in which "backward" Gigi, played by goofy-cute Leslie Caron, scampers about in her Scotch dress, all of a childish sweat, resisting an interest in the soiled, material world. Her natural charm provides a civilising influence on wolves and catty, decadent females. Stealing Beauty's Lucy would no doubt approve.

Meanwhile, thanks to Bertolucci's efforts, beautiful Liv Tyler, a sort of stain-free version of Alanis Morissette, is being feted as the next big thing. She might care to consider, however, that the woman-child's career is often a short one. Look at Amanda Langlet. Who? Exactly. And the writing is already on the sun-baked wall. Bertolucci apparently told Liv Tyler to imagine Lucy as "a ripe plum" - in other words, an untouched entity whose growth will stop once she's been plucked. As for now, the world is ready to gobble Tyler up. Taking their lead from Bertolucci, no one, it seems, can discuss Stealing Beauty without using some form of the verb "to ripen". Like a weird version of Tourette's syndrome, the excited world splutters of Bertolucci's "ripe vision of sexual awakening" (Premiere) or that "Tyler seems destined to ripen pleasingly" (Vanity Fair).

Madonna once said that losing her virginity was a career move. For movie directors, getting someone else to lose their virginity may be even more of one. And far less risky.

n 'Stealing Beauty' is released on 30 August

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Arts and Entertainment
Nicholas says that he still feels lucky to be able to do what he loves, but that there is much about being in a band he hates
musicThere is much about being in a band that he hates, but his debut album is suffused with regret
Arts and Entertainment
The singer, who herself is openly bisexual, praised the 19-year-old sportsman before launching into a tirade about the upcoming Winter Olympics

books
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Cryer and Ashton Kutcher in the eleventh season of Two and a Half Men

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

film
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman as Doctor Who and Clara behind the scenes

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cheery but half-baked canine caper: 'Pudsey the dog: The movie'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce leads the MTV VMA Awards 2014 nominations with eight

music
Arts and Entertainment
Live from your living room: Go People perform at a private home in Covent Garden

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
MasterChef 2014 finalists Charley Boorman, Wayne Sleep, Sophie Thompson and Jodie Kidd

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Trade unionist Ricky Tomlinson (right), later a television actor, attends a demonstration in London, 1975
theatre
News
The three-time Emmy award winner Elaine Stritch
peopleStar of stage and screen passes away aged 89
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
    Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

    Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

    Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
    Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

    Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

    They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
    The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

    20 best days out for the summer holidays

    From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
    Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

    All the wood’s a stage

    Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
    Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

    Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

    Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
    Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

    Self-preservation society

    Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
    Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

    Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

    We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor