Fox Searchlight to Release Its First NC-17 Film, Bertolucci’s “The Dreamers”
by Wendy Mitchell
In a surprising move considering the current studio climate and the recent history of the NC-17 rating, Fox Searchlight announced that it would be the first MPAA signatory company to release an NC-17-rated film in theaters in six years. The company will release the sex-filled uncut version of Bernardo Bertolucci’s “The Dreamers” next month, marking the first time in the speciality division’s history that it has handled an NC-17 film. Rogue Pictures, the October Films label, released “Orgazmo” as an NC-17 title in 1998.
“‘The Dreamers’ provocatively explores human sexuality in a frank way,” said Fox Searchlight Pictures President Peter Rice in a prepared statement on Monday. “By releasing the film as Bernardo originally intended we are following in the footsteps of classic films like ‘Midnight Cowboy’ and ‘Last Tango in Paris.’ Like ‘The Dreamers,’ those masterpieces would not have been improved by cutting them to an R rating. We believe that NC-17 is the appropriate rating for ‘The Dreamers’ given that this is not a film for children under 17; it is an audacious and original film for intelligent critics and discerning adult audiences.”
Director Bertolucci, who knows about controversy from his “Last Tango in Paris” days decades ago, said in a statement, “‘The Dreamers’ is finally making it to the U.S. in its uncut version. I’m relieved — in so many ways — that the distributor has had the vision to release my original film. After all, an orgasm is better than a bomb.”
The film premiered at the 2003 Venice Film Festival, and also played at the London Film Festival. Fox Searchlight will host the North American premiere at the upcoming Sundance Film Festival on January 20 (with the director in attendance) and it will then open “The Dreamers” in New York ad Los Angeles on February 6 and in select cities nationwide on February 13.
Set in the politically turbulent year of 1968 in France, “The Dreamers” follows three young students and film lovers who live together in an apartment and “experiment with their emotions and sexuality while playing a series of increasingly demanding mind games.” The film stars Michael Pitt, Eva Green, and Louis Garrel as the young lovers (two of whom happen to be brother and sister in the movie). Bertolucci shot the $15 million film in Paris in 2002. It is nominated for a Spanish Goya award for best European film.
The Motion Picture Association of America first introduced the NC-17 rating in 1990; 1991’s “Henry & June” (Universal) was the first film released with the rating, followed by other notables like Miramax’s “The Cook, The Thief, His Wife And Her Lover” and Fine Line’s release of David Cronenberg’s “Crash.” In recent years, studio divisions that have tried to release NC-17-rated films have had to abandon projects — including Miramax with Larry Clark’s “Kids” and Universal division October Films with Todd Solondz’s “Happiness.” Many newspapers in the U.S. won’t accept advertisements for NC-17-rated films, while some theater chains have a policy of never screening NC-17 films.
Recent films that were released as NC-17 include 1998’s “Orgazmo” (Rogue Pictures, a subdivision of October Films), 1997’s “Bent” (MGM), and 2001’s “L.I.E.” (Lot 47). Even true indie distributors have avoided the NC-17 rating like the plague recently. Graphic films such as “Baise-Moi,” “Fat Girl,” “Intimacy,” “Requiem for a Dream,” “Trouble Every Day,” “Irreversible,” and “Y Tu Mama Tambien” are among the films that have been released as unrated rather than deal with the NC-17 rating.
Some studio divisions have released cut films in theaters and uncut versions on home video with the NC-17 rating, including 20th Century Fox’s “Two Girls and a Guy” (1998) and Bertolucci’s “Last Tango In Paris” from MGM’s home video line (1997).
The question remains how Fox’s first NC-17 film will fare; the results for “The Dreamers” could inspire, or prevent, other studio divisions from releasing racy movies.