Tag Archives: erotic cinema

Porno e Libertà

Porn to Be Free
Porno e Libertà

Format: Cinema

Seen at Rotterdam 2016

Director: Carmine Amoroso

Alternative title: Porn to Be Free

Italy 2015

78 mins

An uncritical documentary on the Italian porn industry from the 1960s to the 1980s.

‘Pornography should be entirely liberated!’ enthuses Bernardo Bertolucci in footage inserted into this documentary about the ‘tumescent’ rise of pornography in the Italian cinema of the 1960s–1980s. This period of counter-cultural aspiration has been the subject of several hagiographic and frequently mythologising accounts of the assorted social and political liberations – gay, straight, psychotropic – which bestrode the period. Indeed an entire nostalgic consumerist retro-movement in material and cultural matter revolves around it to this day. The very appellation attached to its origins, ‘The Swinging Sixties’, bears testimony to this.

Through the literal and metaphorical rose-coloured testimonial lens of the aptly named director, Carmine Amoroso (carmine indicating red and amoroso indicating amorous and loving; though in light of the present subject matter one might well ask, ‘What’s love got to do with it?’), this documentary traces the growth of Italy’s porn industry from the tentative ‘let’s push the boundaries’ spirit of the 1960s to the ‘let it all hang out’ zeitgeist of the 1970s onwards. It features interviews with pornographers such as Riccardo Schicchi (kicked out of high school, it is said, for spying on girls’ toilets, and having served a prison term for prostitution offences) and touches on issues such as censorship, sexual revolution and the popularisation of some of its stars, such as Ilona Staller, aka Cicciolina, who was elected to the Italian parliament in 1987 and married to the ‘artist’ Jeff Koons for two years before embarking on a 14-year custody case over their son, Ludwig… these facts being germane in considering the documentary’s unproblematic thesis.

In matters sexual, Amoroso has previous form as the writer and director of Come mi vuoi (1996), considered to be the first Italian film delving into issues of the transgender community, and Cover Boy: Last Revolution (2006), a story of two male cultures clashing.

In Porno e Libertà, a voice-over narration accompanies and contexualises the account in an attempt to historicise and revise Italian porn history. But the main polemical aim is to celebrate and legitimise the enterprise by using techniques of narrative and visual persuasion to turn the porn business into a great carnivalesque affair, unconcerned with capital gain and pre-occupied with sexual liberation. It’s an erotic carnival where no one is exploited, no disease, suicide or drug habits are present and profits are not greedily grabbed by producers and distributors; an egalitarian universe where performers ‘do it’ largely for the cause of freedom and hey, just plain fun. It has to be noted that a brief feminist perspective is introduced into the film but serves little balancing purpose to the overall thesis.

This is a documentary that is made unproblematic with regard to the darker issues of pornography and as such is simply a lively romp through a particular cinematic history for which few visual essays have been made. Taking advantage of the contemporary retro taste for porn of an earlier age – vintage porn videos fetch good prices on online auction sites – this celebratory (certainly not masturbatory) documentary is a journey to a lost continent. A seemingly innocent and Arcadian continent where women actually have – can you believe it? – pubic hair! Never has so much hirsute pudenda been spotted since the late 1980s. Porno e Libertà, while historically irresistible, is critically irresponsible.

James B. Evans

This review is part of our Rotterdam 2016 coverage.

Watch the trailer:

A Snake of June

A Snake of June
A Snake of June

Format: Blu-ray

Release date: 28 September 2015

Distributor: Third Window Films

Director: Shin’ya Tsukamoto

Writer: Shin’ya Tsukamoto

Cast: Asuka Kurosawa, Yûji Kôtari, Shinya Tsukamoto, Fuwa Mansaku

Japan 2002

77 mins

Following on from the wonderful Blu-ray releases of Kotoko, the first two Tetsuo films, Tokyo Fist and Bullet Ballet, Third Window Films continues its fruitful relationship with cult Japanese filmmaker Shin’ya Tsukamoto with a high-definition remaster of his erotically charged reverie A Snake of June.

Set during the incessant downpour of Japan’s rainy season, and cast in an oppressive, yet somewhat sensual, blue-tinted monochrome hue (an aspect of the film that has received a poor showing in previous home video releases), A Snake of June is a revitalised reworking of Tsukamoto’s typical story dynamic, which revolves around a couple’s status quo being disrupted by a strange interloper. Rinko (Asuka Kurosawa), a counsellor for a hospital’s mental health call centre, is in an amicable although distant marriage with Shigehiko (novelist and occasional actor Yûji Kôtari), an overweight, balding salaryman who is more interested in obsessively scrubbing the floors and sinks of their angular apartment than in intimacy. Behaving more like good friends than lovers, they often find themselves sleeping separately. Rinko’s private acts of secret self-pleasure are caught on camera by Iguchi (played by Tsukamoto himself), a cancer sufferer who had once phoned Rinko’s call centre with thoughts of suicide. To thank Rinko for convincing him to live, Iguchi wants to return the favour by getting Rinko to open up and fully embrace her sexual curiosity, as evidenced by his voyeurism, and offers the negatives on the condition that she completes a set of public sexual tasks. Wanting to keep the scandal a secret from Shigehiko, Rinko reluctantly goes along with Iguchi’s strange form of blackmailing. What follows is a journey of carnal reawakening, for both husband and wife.

Upon cursory inspection, Tsukamoto appears to be channelling the tropes of Japan’s long-running and not always illustrious pinku eiga (softcore sex films) industry, where sexual blackmail, public humiliation and frigid women overcoming their inhibitions are common sights. Yet, despite its subject matter, this is not exploitation but a Tsukamoto film through and through, and it is as considered and thoughtful as any of his gems from the 1990s. What’s particularly refreshing is that it feels in A Snake of June that Tsukamoto finally feels comfortable with dealing with themes of carnality, desire and the flesh in a way that is both candid and honest. He had definitely been courting these ideas for a while. Tetsuo was just as much about erupting sexual impulse as it was about erupting scrap metal, and trichotomic sexual mind games were central to Tokyo Fist and the lamentably underseen Gemini (1999). But with A Snake of June, the metal transformations, the hyperbolic bruises and the colourful dirt and rags are shed, revealing a body that is pure.

Granted, some of Tsukamoto’s fetishistic undertones do remain. The flexible, snake-like metal phallus that dances out from Iguchi’s cancerous stomach is a very deliberate callback to Tetsuo’s nightmare sequence of emasculation and sodomy. A scene where Shigehiko finds himself attending a sex-snuff show where the audience members are bound and forced to watch through a funnelled peephole over the face is an equally surreal highlight. But there is a sense of a greater thesis at work, with Tsukamoto dedicating time to both sides of the relationship’s reawakening – as demonstrated by the use of Mars and Venus gender symbols to apportion the narrative – although Rinko’s perspective ultimately wins out.

Speaking of perspective, Tsukamoto ensures that we adopt the role of voyeur as well by shooting on long lenses, isolating characters within the film’s antiquated 1.33:1 framing ratio, catching the glances of anonymous passers-by, and often having the camera peek from around corners, over walls and through windows. It reinforces the idea of the camera as a tool for penetration, both penetration of privacy and in a more sexual sense, as a taker of nude photographs philosophises at the film’s start: ‘A small camera won’t do. It has to be a big one with a flash. Otherwise you can’t make her come.’ This is put into practice later on when a horny Rinko poses and masturbates in the rain, while Iguchi, armed with a big-lensed camera, snaps away. The light from the flash gun whips across her bare flesh in volleys of ecstasy; the tinted downpour cleansing her of her fears. Tsukamoto shoots and cuts the scene like an instance of passionate lovemaking, with even Iguchi slumped back in his car after the shoot, as if spent; his use of a small, flash-less camera afterwards resembles a moment of post-coital tenderness.

A Snake of June is certainly a blue movie in more ways than one, but those looking for a no-nonsense skin flick may be disappointed. The film is a far more subtle affair, largely eschewing the show-stopping propulsion or overwrought angst that has characterised earlier Tsukamoto work, yet still intense in its own way, with a pleasant dash of mechanical weirdness. It may not be as well-known as his 1990s work, but A Snake of June shows Tsukamoto at the height of his authorial powers.

Mark Player

Watch the trailer:

Immoral Tales

Immoral Tales
Immoral Tales

Camera Obscura: The Walerian Borowczyk Collection

Format: Blu-ray

Release date: 8 September 2014

Distributor: Arrow Academy

Director: Walerian Borowczyk

Writer: André Pieyre de Mandiargues

Cast: Fabrice Luchini, Lise Danvers, Charlotte Alexandra, Paloma Picasso, Florence Bellamy

Original title: Contes immoraux

France 1974

103 mins

Walerian Borowczyk’s art/filth portmanteau film consists of four stories. Set in the modern world, on a barren pebble beach ‘La Marée’ (‘The Tide’) has Fabrice Luchini as a 20-year-old boy using his seniority to impose his desires on his 16-year-old cousin (Lise Danvers).

Set in 1890, ‘Thérèse Philosophe’ has Charlotte Alexandra as a pious girl, locked in her room, who gets all hot and bothered by the stations of the cross (and a mucky illustrated tract), before falling victim to a malicious vagrant.

The third episode is a staging of the Erzsebet Bathory legend, as Paloma Picasso rides into a Hungarian village and rounds up all the suitably pulchritudinous females for a ritualised sequence of bathing, frock ripping and eventual slaughter. She bathes in their blood before making love to her female squire, who then betrays her to the King’s men.

‘Lucrezia Borgia’ is a carnival of power, corruption and hypocrisy as Lucrezia (Florence Bellamy), the Pope, and various holy lackeys indulge in cackling murder and blasphemous three-way fornication, while a preacher who denounces their regime is burnt at the stake for his troubles.

Plotwise, we are in a brutal and troubling world here, where the urge to power and the sexual drive are hopelessly entwined; where authority is corrupt and murderous and innocence or righteousness are doomed. There’s a Sadean delight in perversity, an emphasis on anti-clericalism and a delight in the blasphemous. This being a Borowczyk film, though, it’s all incredibly seductive, a sensual world of white lace, creamy marble and peachy flesh where everything is sexualised. The carefully chosen objects decorating his sets and locations are there to be stroked, fondled and played with; the elaborate costumes are there to be elaborately removed. Dialogue is sparse, the visual takes precedence. It’s gorgeous, feeling at times like we’ve wandered into a Brueghel, or Dutch master painting.

Immoral Tales brings Pasolini’s Salò (1975) to mind on more than one occasion, but while that film is hellish, cold and ultimately depressing, Borowczyk’s is just that bit more playful – you can sense a knowing smile playing around his lips as the outrage hits home. Sexuality in his films is overwhelming and dangerous and often twisted, but it’s also natural and human and obviously a source of immense pleasure. He often intercuts his scenes of carnality with on-looking animals and uncaring nature, as if they are sitting in judgement, wondering how we let something so simple get so fucked up.

Immoral Tales had a convoluted release history. The episodes were made over 1973-4, and an unfinished version played at the London Film festival in 1974. This disc includes the longer French edit, including another episode, ‘ La Bête’ (‘The Beast’). This was the version that won the L’Age d’Or award (as judged by Max Ernst, among others) and became a box office hit, before it was removed and expanded to become its own feature film La Bête in 1976. I’m grateful for the episodes’s inclusion here because it’s probably my favourite of the Tales: a virginal 18th-century French woman breaks off from playing the harpsichord to follow a straying lamb into the woods, whereupon she is chased and ravaged by a beast, a huge brown-eyed bear-like creature with a seemingly permanent, jism-dripping erection*. Her sexuality awakened, she throws off her corset and proceeds to hump the exhausted creature to death. She then tenderly covers its body with dry leaves, grabs what remains of her clothing and returns to civilisation. This is, I realise, pretty much indefensible from any sexual/political point of view, but as a piece of uninhibited Freudian fantasy cinema it takes some beating. Borowczyk’s Tales all work on this level, troubling wet dreams emerging from his id.

I’m not sure how well they would function as straight pornography, how much use the raincoat brigade would have for cutaways of a snail crawling over a silk shoe, or all that choral and keyboard music. And while the tales are clearly meant to provoke, they simply don’t follow the exploitation playbook. The Bathory and Borgia episodes are notably coy about onscreen violence considering their blood-soaked possibilities. An animator and a supremely visual stylist, the Borowczyk of Immoral Tales is akin to a sensationalist Buñuel , an old-school surrealist with a one-track mind.

Special features include Private Collection, an odd, amusing short in which a man, his head never in shot, displays to us his extensive collection of historical smut: prints, projections, dildos and mechanical toys. There are a couple of informative featurettes, the aforementioned L’Age d’Or award cut of the film, and a trailer. All in all, a fine package for an essential piece of weird cinema.

Mark Stafford

*As arthouse lust monsters go, it’s up there with Isabelle Adjani’s tentacled lover in Zulawski’s Possession (1981). Incidentally, a young Adjani was to be cast in ‘La Marée’, which would have been her first film, before she got cold feet.



Format: Cinema

Release date: 22 February 2014

Distributor: Curzon Film World

Director: Lars von Trier

Writer: Lars von Trier

Cast: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgård, Stacy Martin, Shia LaBeouf, Christian Slater, Uma Thurman, Willem Dafoe, Jamie Bell

Denmark, Belgium, France, Germany, UK 2013

118 + 123 mins

This is a review of the theatrical version of the film, released in 2014.

In Lars von Trier’s 1998 Dada-spirited satire The Idiots, the characters pretended to be mentally retarded in a series of anarchic pranks that aimed to provoke reactions and shake up the social order. Just like his characters, von Trier often appears in the role of the idiot, the singular individual who won’t behave as is expected or conform to society’s collectively sanctioned discourse, as demonstrated most spectacularly by the furore that greeted his misperceived comments at the Cannes Film Festival three years ago.

Now, after the epic misery of Dancer in the Dark, Antichrist and Melancholia, he returns to the mischievous spirit of The Idiots with what is arguably his greatest film so far, a colossal saga of lust and life, a magnum opus that recapitulates everything he has done before, encapsulating major themes, character types and even scenes from previous films, and integrating them into an ambitious, intelligent and vivid work of tremendous depth and breadth.

Divided into two volumes of roughly two hours each, the teasingly titled Nymphomaniac tells the story of the troubled, bruised and battered Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) as she recounts it to gentle intellectual Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård), who rescued her after finding her unconscious in an alley. The first part covers Joe’s childhood and youthful erotic experiences with playful, witty verve, before descending into darker, more painful territory in the second part as Joe’s desires come up against the crushing pressures and constraining demands of adult life. The erudite Seligman responds to each episode that Joe describes with brilliant digressions on the art of fishing, Fibonacci numbers, Edgar Allan Poe, Bach, Roman punishments, James Bond, Zeno’s Paradox of the Tortoise and Achilles, the Catholic and Orthodox religions and so forth, establishing connections and analogies between her experiences on the one hand and the history of human thought on the other hand, and in so doing, removing the notion of sin and Joe’s condemnation of herself.

Nymphomaniac Volumes I & II Director’s Cut is released in the UK on DVD and Blu-ray on 10 May 2015 by Artificial Eye. Now with 90 minutes of previously unseen material.

All these cultural references are skilfully and inventively woven into the film, either prompting the revelation of a new chapter in Joe’s life, illuminating unexpected aspects of her story, or offering a different perspective on it. The storytelling is complex and controlled, as well as playfully self-aware, with Seligman sometimes expressing doubts about the veracity of parts of Joe’s story. Von Trier’s obvious love for the art and ideas referenced is never self-indulgent, but thrillingly demonstrates the profound and vital connection between art and life.

Occasionally, the dialogue between Joe and Seligman turns into debates on thorny topics such as anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, misogyny and women’s place in society, the outright condemnation of paedophiles and the use of words like ‘negro’. At times, it feels as if von Trier was responding to his detractors, at others as if he was having a dialogue with himself, using both characters to present the two sides of the discussions (attributing the more incendiary views to each of them in turns) in nuanced, thought-provoking ways.

Watch the trailer:

As all this makes clear, for all of the explicit trailers and the provocative title, Nymphomaniac is not a film about sex as much as it is a film about being human, about love, lust, desire, failings, irresistible urges and irrepressible terrors. The tone is one of ironic distance, but also of curiosity and openness, as the emotions and secretions of the strange human species are observed with quasi-scientific detachment tinged with – for von Trier – a surprising amount of amused warmth. Uncompromising and eye-wateringly candid, the film looks at all aspects of life, with an enormous desire to see everything and embrace it all, no matter whether it is beautiful or ugly, comical or disturbing.

In that spirit, von Trier examines the human body with wonderful, invigorating honesty, scrutinizing it in all its gooeyness, inspecting sperm, female lubrication, shit and blood with non-judgemental interest. The camera unflinchingly stares at cocks (erect, but also at rest in a gallery of penises that humorously shows off the diversity of the male anatomy), cunts, tits and arses; in sex acts, but also in sickness and in pain. Women have pubic hair in what seems almost a protest against the hair intolerance and sanitised female bodies of a porn-influenced mainstream culture, in the same way that the characters saying words such as ‘cunt’ and ‘negro’ feels like a giddy two fingers at the censoring self-righteousness of our strange neo-puritan age.

Supported by intense, in turns courageous and uproarious performances, as well as a soundtrack that includes everything from Rammstein to Beethoven, in keeping with the film’s free, open spirit, Nymphomaniac is an exhilarating tour de force that takes in the whole of the singular human experience, including the body and the brain, sex and love, art and life, and all of the complicated, painful and wonderful connections between them. Astonishing, energising and exciting, Nymphomaniac is a fearless film made by a man with a tremendous lust for life in all its cruelty, absurdity and richness.

Read our interview with Lars von Trier on Antichrist.

Virginie Sélavy