By Indiewire | Indiewire September 17, 1999 at 2:0AM
TORONTO FESTIVAL: Graphic Sex Offers Respite for Cranky Viewers
by Beth Pinsker
And on the seventh day of the Toronto Film Festival, God created crankiness. Nobody likes any of the movies they are seeing. People are nodding off or leaving en masse in the middle of screenings. As tiredness sets in, concentration goes out the window. Sitting for two hours in a horribly conceived movie holds no majesty even for those who love movies. The consolations are that Toronto is a big coffee and pastry town, and that there are still a few hidden gems among the 300 or so festival contenders (see "A Room for Romeo Brass," "The Annihilation of Fish," or "Spring Forward," for instance.)
There's also the plus that although many films are only mildly interesting, the chance one has of watching something with graphic sex is pretty high. In that light, Catherine Breillat's "Romance" had its first public screening on Wednesday. The film is what could only be called "art porn," in that it has explicit and omnipresent sexual content, but that it also has a plot, character development and an almost academic tone. Trimark will release the film unrated, because it would surely get a marketplace-killing NC-17. It would get the dreaded rating just for one shot of male genitals. A movie full of such shots - ones that objectifies the item as men have done with women's breasts for a century - is nothing short of scandalous.
Sex has also been a topic of conversation because of newly acquired Fine Line film Frederic Fonteyne's "Une Liaison Pornographique," and South Korean director Jang Sun Woo's powerful "Lies." These are not just films that have sexual content, nor are they like many films that have even hard-core sexual content. These are films about sex that go beyond the normal boundaries of the mainstream marketplace.
And just what sets the parameters of that marketplace? Don't get any director started on that if you don't want to get into a ranting discussion about the hypocrisy of the Motion Picture Association of America's rating guides. Even Agnieszka Holland has to worry about the sexual content of her film, "The Third Miracle" and it's about a Catholic priest investigating the great works of a perspective saint. She doesn't show any skin, but that doesn't mean that Ed Harris and Anne Heche don't share any erotic moments. "We're spoiled by sex in movies, because it's so graphically descriptive," says Holland. "Desire is connected to mystery, to impossibility. It's like when you shoot hunger, you have to shoot the opposite, which is somebody eating. When you shoot desire, you have to shoot the tension before having sex."
"But I'm a Cheerleader" director Jamie Babbit says she had to change dialogue and cut a masturbation scene to get an R for her film. She is quick to note that other teen pics, specifically "American Pie" show scenes of young women masturbating, but that since they are in a heterosexual context those films got away with it. Since her film was a satire about how the unthinking try to convert homosexuals, she had to cut Natasha Lyonne in a rather tame encounter with herself because her character was supposed to be thinking of another girl.
James Toback made the bold move of putting a scene that he had to snip out of "Black and White" in order to get an R onto the Internet. He says that an opening shot of rapper Rich (Power of the Wu Tang Clan) making out with two women, had to be cut because Bijou Phillips arm bobs up and down too many times. "How many is too many times?" Toback says he asked one of the MPAA henchmen. The original scene had six jerks. "They said two might be ok," Toback says. He ended up replacing the shot with another take where the actress' arm doesn't move at all, and he says he ran into the same kind of quantitative reasoning when he sent "Two Girls and a Guy" in front of the MPAA.
In that film, Robert Downey Jr.'s head could only bob twice in an oral sex scene, instead of eight times. Toback considers this an outrage - what kind of satisfaction can ever be gained in two head bobs, he asks. The controversy did succeed in bringing out a large crowd on Wednesday for the premiere and the midnight post-party. The Wu Tang Clan made the rounds, as did Liev Schreiber, the lovely Miss Canada still wearing her sash, and other luminaries (although, not, of course, Downey, because he is back in jail).
Also premiering on Wednesday night was Fine Line's thriller "Simpatico," from first-time director Matthew Warchus. The film pretty much misses the mark, which might have been what made the party light on star power, except for the film's stars Jeff Bridges and Nick Nolte, the latter arriving in his pajamas and those shoes that help build up the muscles in his arches. With those comfort supports, it's nice to know that at least Nick isn't cranky.