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Celebrating the body, or just plain creepy? Director facing backlash over ‘porn’ movie at Cannes

Celebrating the body, or just plain creepy? Director facing backlash over ‘porn’ movie at Cannes
French director Abdellatif Kechiche is not earning much praise for his latest film — a piece of cinema slammed for its depictions of women and described by one critic as a bland “three-hours-plus of jiggling female butts.”

‘Mektoub, My Love: Intermezzo’ follows protagonist Ophélie, who has been cheating on her husband and finds herself pregnant with her secret lover’s child — but that appears to be where the plot begins and ends.

The film, or the “cinematic lap dance” as another critic put it, even had people walking out of the theatre at the Cannes Film Festival, particularly disturbed by a nearly 15-minute-long scene of unsimulated oral sex taking place in a nightclub toilet. When did going to the cinema to watch graphic, unsimulated, on-screen sex — also known as pornography — become the norm?

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‘Mektoub’ is not the first time Kechiche — known for his “epic female buttock fetish” — has been slammed for gratuitous sex scenes. He was also criticized for what some said were overly-graphic love scenes in lesbian love story ‘Blue Is the Warmest Color’ — although that one earned the Tunisian-born director the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 2013.

He’s not the only director who has taken his fascination with creating porn-style movies to disturbing lengths, either. Danish film director Lars von Trier has been featuring real sex in his controversial movies since 1998 (most recently in the two-part ‘sex epic’ ‘Nymphomaniac’). ‘The Brown Bunny’ also sparked some outrage at Cannes in 2003 for a scene in which actress Chloë Sevigny performs real oral sex on actor and director Vincent Gallo. The late legendary film critic Roger Ebert called that one “the worst film in the history of the festival.”

Films featuring unsimulated sex — which are not exactly a totally new phenomenon — are not always panned by critics, though. Some, like ‘A Song of Love’ (1950) and ‘In the Realm of the Senses’ (1976) have seen earned high praise. So maybe it’s just the ones with especially creepy directors?

For ‘Mektoub,’ Kechiche claims he was simply celebrating the female form and “wanted to film the magic of the body”  — but that defense might hold up better if he wasn’t also reportedly facing allegations that he plied his actors with alcohol and pressured them into performing the most controversial scenes. In other words, the sex between the movie’s characters was consensual, but the actors themselves may not have been delighted about the whole thing.

So, is Kechiche just a risqué director who harbors an unhealthy but harmless obsession with filming women’s butts, or is he an abusive and controlling person who uses vulnerable young actresses to act out his own fantasies on screen? If the answer is the latter, it would hardly be that surprising.

Sources speaking to the Midi Libre newspaper claimed Kechiche pushed his actors into delivering the sex scene, which they didn’t want to do. “But by the way of insistence, and over time and with alcohol being regularly consumed, he managed to get what he wanted,” the source claimed. The allegations echo earlier comments from ‘Blue Is the Warmest Color’ actress Lea Seydoux, who said she wouldn’t work with the controversial director again and “felt like a prostitute” while filming the movie. Kechiche was also accused of sexual assaulting an unconscious actress last year (but adamantly denies that accusation).

With these kinds of questions swirling about his personal life and allegedly unsavory and perverted work habits, Kechiche is still celebrated by some and hasn’t had his full-blown Harvey Weinstein moment. Perhaps there’s an exception for ‘arty’ movies that the average filmgoer just couldn’t possibly understand.

‘Mektoub’ is currently seeking US distribution. Maybe Pornhub could take it up?

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