The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

The ten minutes from the Cannes winner I dread

with 24 comments

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There was a lot of cheering when the winner of the most prestigious prize at Cannes was announced, Blue is the Warmest Colour.

The main reason for the enthusiasm was hopefully that it’s a good movie that deserves the award. Every critic I’ve heard so far has been lyrical about it. But it appears also that it might have played in a little that the movie was about lesbian love, a theme that hasn’t been explored overly much in movies (apart from porn, which is a different business). The win felt like a victory and a step in the right direction towards equal treatment of all people, regardless of sexual preferences.

It’s still unclear when this movie will arrive at Sweden, but based on all recommendations I’ll see it if I get the chance. However there’s one thing about it that I dread, and this is what this post is going to be about.

I’m talking about the sex scene.
Now is the time for a bit of clarification: I have nothing against sex scenes from a moral point of view. People can run around full frontal nude over the screen if they like, either they’re shaped as Michael Fassbender or as an ordinary human being without me being bothered. And I’m comfortable with all sorts of love: gay, lesbian, poly, s/m. As long as it concerns consenting adults, I have no objections.

But nevertheless I dread the sex scene that everyone is talking about in the regards of this movie. Not because it’s lesbian, but because it’s freaking ten minutes long.

Ten minutes! After even one minute of the usual mandatory-sexual-intercourse in a movie, I’m starting to check my watch, waiting for it to be over. Or – depending on the circumstances – I’m looking in another direction since I’m embarrassed.

Reactions to sex scenes
Boredom is my most usual reaction to sex scenes. I just don’t see the point of watching the act in detail, similar to how I don’t enjoy staring at someone doing push-ups, eating breakfast or going to the bathroom. Am I supposed to study their facial expressions to learn something more about the inner lives of the characters? Well, I may be very insensitive, but I don’t learn anything at all. All I see is two actors pretending they’re having sex, wishing it was over. And I’m all on their side.

Shame is another reaction, though not quite as common. This usually happens when I’m watching the movie in company with someone else. Family members are arguably the worst. You know how it is. You thought the movie was SFF, Safe For Family, and your parents or children are sitting next to you and then all of a sudden the scene shifts and they’re moving towards the bedroom and you whisper “no, please don’t go there”, but that’s exactly where they’re going. So you stare out in the blue, waiting for it to be over, pretending your family isn’t there, pretending this didn’t happen.

Scepticism happens too. Positions that I can’t fathom are comfortable or even doable practically are presented as Earthshattering, making you wonder if the person who wrote it ever has had sex apart from in the imagination.

A little touch of envy. I stare at the naked body of young star actress, sculptured into perfection by years of strict dieting and reoccurring surgery. And since I’m so bored, my mind will start to wander and gloomy thoughts about my own shortcomings in this department will appear, thoughts like: “I need to buy a new swimming suit this summer and do I really need to try it on in front of a mirror? I’d rather pull out my teeth without painkilling.” Yeah.

Excitement? Never. Fortunately, I may add. Sitting in theatre, that sort of reaction would feel awkward. If I wanted to get aroused by watching movies, there are plenty of them out there that are designed for this purpose and probably make the work more efficiently.

Sometimes I wish they could just replace the sex scene with a written sign, like the one they used to have in silent films: “And then person X and person Y had sex. They liked it/didn’t like it.” And then they could move on, saving us the drudgery.

A list of sex scenes
I know this post contains a very negative outlook on sex scenes in movies. To counter it I tried to come up with a list of good examples, sex scenes that worked for me, that didn’t bore me, scenes that were meaningful and conveyed something that couldn’t have been said any other way.

It turned out to be harder than I had imagined. Tom Tykwer’s 3, about a man and a woman falling in love with the same man, could be a candidate. And Shame would lose its meaning if you took away the sex scenes. But after that I halted, couldn’t come up with anything. Perhaps you can come up with some suggestions.

I’ll finish this post where I started it: with the ten minute sex scene. Now you know why I dread it.

There was a Swedish film critic reporting from Cannes who had a different view. She insisted on that this particular sex scene was the best one she’d ever seen on a screen and that from now on sex scenes in comparison.

I hope she’s right.

photo credit: Picture Zealot via photopin cc

Written by Jessica

May 31, 2013 at 5:00 pm

24 Responses

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  1. The Schaeffer Family experience as only The Onion could report:http://www.theonion.com/articles/family-watching-movie-whiteknuckles-it-through-une,32299/

    Nice post, and I tend to agree with most of everything you say. Ten minutes seems excessive for a scene that traditionally does very little to develop character or progress the plot apart from the fact that we know the characters are having sex, or how passionate they are towards one another, which could be contained to even a few seconds and still impart the same meaning to the film.

    Curious to see this film when it comes out in the States.

    Adam

    May 31, 2013 at 5:14 pm

    • Haha, that Onion piece was spot on!
      I’m definitely going to try to catch this movie too. The 10 minutes seem excessive, but it won’t keep me from seeing it.

      Jessica

      June 3, 2013 at 12:21 am

  2. Another film where the sex scenes are integral to the plot is 9 songs. I thought this was an interesting and honest look at how important sex is in young relationships.

    Chris

    May 31, 2013 at 5:17 pm

    • I haven’t seen that one, but I’ll remember that if I stumble upon it.

      Jessica

      June 3, 2013 at 12:22 am

  3. I’m sure I could list many but aside from Shortbus being one of my favorite films and chock full of sex, one of the more memorable scenes to me is one near the end of Irreversible that is really beautiful emotionally, all the moreso for having survived watching that film.

    Bondo

    May 31, 2013 at 7:12 pm

    • I know you’ve got a more positive approach to them than I have. This said: I would really like to see Shortbus, but that’s just because I like the other work by the director so much.

      Jessica

      June 3, 2013 at 12:23 am

      • The one thing I’ll say about the sex scenes in Shortbus…they aren’t boring. They are either edited quick enough not to get to that point or are just so bizarre that they keep your attention. Even in the middle of a scene it is still character development rather than putting that on hold.

        Bondo

        June 3, 2013 at 3:18 pm

  4. Nice write up Jessica. I hope I’m not viewed as square or petty but have no use for any nudity/sex scene in movies. They have never added ANYTHING to my personal movie watching experience (well maybe when I was a teenager). I go back to the days where filmmakers were able to tell stories just as good if not better without the crutch of nudity or explicit sex. Now it’s not always a crutch. Some people are genuinely fond of them. Not me and honestly, I’ll skip a film that’s loaded with them. But that’s just me.

    keith7198

    May 31, 2013 at 7:51 pm

    • I don’t think I’d skip a film only because of the presence of sex scenes. But I’m with you that in the vast majority of cases they add nothing. It sometimes feels almost like a relief when you watch a movie and find that there aren’t any sex scenes for once. That’s how common they are nowadays!

      Jessica

      June 3, 2013 at 1:01 am

  5. My cynical side comes out in any sex scene. I have yet to encounter any evidence that sex scene whose primary purpose is purely financial. This is not to say there might not also be another reason, but in my experience it is never the main reason. Admittedly my film experience is limited, but I also think the same logic applies pretty well to books too. Sex sells. Creating a film where one can “legitimately” have more sex scenes always seems to me like someone using art as an excuse to sell sex, not using sex as a means to express art.

    More philosophically though I find sex scenes – visual or written – to always be a let down. Human imagination can conjure up images far more effective than any author or director. In a sex scene the director intrudes upon my imagination. It is the director almost insisting in his or her power over me – a form of domination almost, if you will, in an area where coercion is a crime.

    This may be why I judge sex scenes so harshly cynically.

    I also think the handling of sex scenes is related to how something scary is handled. Generally I find the horror off-screen far worse than anything shown on-screen. The subtle far more communicative than the brash.

    Just me tuppence.

    stnylan

    May 31, 2013 at 8:44 pm

    • Thanks for your tuppence!
      I think it’s a good parallel you’re putting up. The hinted, the unspoken, the brief touch that you just barely observe, is much more engaging and efficient both when it comes to showing sex and creating horror.

      Jessica

      June 3, 2013 at 12:59 am

  6. Julianne Moore – who has played numerous sex scenes in her career – once was asked in an interview how she felt about them, she said something like this: sex scenes are natural because sex is a good and natural thing, holding a gun to kill somebody is much harder to play and to watch.
    For me sex scenes are just like every other movie scene: there are good ones and bad ones, most of the bad (read it: unnecessary) ones come from Hollywood films. Eyes wide shut, Mulholland Dr., Breaking the waves, Dog Days, Choses Secretes is a bunch of great recent films and their greatness would be diminished by the absence of the sex scenes. What is the first thing coming to mind when you think of Last Tango in Paris? people replying butter were too much distracted by it to understand the movie.
    When I watch a film I want to face a different reality, a different point of view about history, morals, politics, violence and countless other subjects, why sexuality should not be one of it?
    In my opinion “having sex” is a much more meaningful experience/defining moment in our life than “doing push-ups, eating breakfast” so I guess the meaning of some films can be enhanced by sex scenes – but at the same time I think Rocky needs the push-ups. I doubt we can evaluate a film from what it shows or don’t shows, it’s the how it shows something and why it shows something that make a difference, Kechiche has already shot a beautiful and useful sex scene before – in La Faute à Voltaire – years ago I watched that film with my daughter and my wife, last Sunday night when I told them Kechiche’s new film had been awarded la Palme d’or they remembered “the poignant film about les sans papiers”.

    ismokecigars

    June 1, 2013 at 11:45 am

    • I don’t really disagree with what you say, but my problem is that I think many of the sex scenes in films today don’t feel as if they add or mean anything. They’re just there for decoration or because some kind of expectation that they should be there. That’s what makes them so pointless.

      Jessica

      June 3, 2013 at 12:54 am

  7. Like another poster mentioned, I don’t have any issue with sex scenes, only bad sex scenes (I Heart Huckabees comes to mind.) I’m not jealous of the performers, I’m not embarrassed by my body’s natural reactions, if they occur, and I am not bored by them. Violent films where a girl is being stalked for 10 minutes before being beheaded bore me. My attitude there is the same as yours to a sex scene – just get it over with and/or I don’t need to see this.

    I’m not embarrassed when they come on while I am watching the film with others, either, but since you already know about this scene that won’t be a problem for you.

    It’s when the two performers are obviously, not even remotely, making love that a scene is bad. There may be sheets between them, physical movements a foot away from each other, or whatnot. From what I’ve heard about this scene, they actually did have the actresses try to make it realistic. And frankly, a ten minute sex scene is a lot more realistic than the 30 second ones that populate many movies. And at three hours long a ten minute scene is hardly much at all. Just fast forward through it and watch the other two hours and fifty minutes.

    Chip Lary

    June 1, 2013 at 5:44 pm

    • Well it’s kind of hard to fast forward it when you see it in a theatre. To me car chases are about the same as sex scenes. I just want them to be over too. With a few exceptions.

      Re: sheets and stuff: I really can’t blame the actors. I think it’s pretty amazing how far most of them are prepared to go.

      Jessica

      June 3, 2013 at 12:52 am

      • I’d assumed because of your desire to not see this scene that you would wait and watch the film in private, therefore you would be able to fast forward it. My mistake.

        As for sheets and stuff, if the performers are not willing to even attempt to strive for believability then they should not have been hired in the first place. Imagine hiring someone to play an action hero cop to only later find that he doesn’t believe in violence so he refuses to carry a gun in the movie. If someone’s not comfortable with a particular kind of scene (sex, violence, smoking, whatever), that’s fine – just don’t try out for parts that call for those scenes. If they decide to audition and are cast then they need to commit to the role despite whatever their personal feelings are.

        I don’t need sex scenes in films, but if they are going to put one in then don’t make it a bad one. I would say the same for a death scene, a first meeting scene, an argument scene, or any other kind of interaction in a film. If it’s in the film then the people in it should be trying to make it the best they can.

        Chip Lary

        June 3, 2013 at 2:42 am

  8. Excellent post once again, Jessica. I found a lot of humour here as you reflect the feelings that most of us have with sex scenes (whether we admit it or not). If they add something to the movie then I’m cool with that. Shame is one of my favourite movies from recent years and, you rightly point out, it wouldn’t have been the same without it’s sexual content. I could also say the same for another favourite of mine – Boogie Nights. That being said, 10 mins does seem like a very long time for a sex scene. What exactly is the film trying to achieve with that? Still, I’m very interested in seeing the movie. Call me a deviant 😉 but it’s grabbed my interest already.

    Mark Walker

    June 2, 2013 at 5:25 pm

    • Thank you Mark! And yes, I’ll definitely try to see it too. But it’s not because of the sex scene – it’s despite it.

      Jessica

      June 3, 2013 at 12:49 am

  9. Only ten minutes? Even my old ass can go longer than that 😉

    sanclementejed

    June 2, 2013 at 5:45 pm

  10. So, Jessica, can I count on you for a spirited review of Lars Von Triers’ upcoming trilogy – ‘Nymphomaniac’?

    Steven

    June 3, 2013 at 7:44 pm

    • Maybe. 🙂
      Honestly I don’t feel particularly attracted to it, but on the other hand, as far as I can remember I loved The Idiots, though it’s been awfully long since I watched it. You never know.

      Jessica

      June 6, 2013 at 10:14 pm

  11. […] The ten minutes from the Cannes winner I dread (thevelvetcafe.wordpress.com) […]

  12. […] question was if I was going to see it at all. I’ve written before about how much I hate long sex scenes, and this was exactly what this film was going to contain. If you’d believe how the talk about it […]


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