Let us talk about the films in the 66th Cannes Film Festival that use sex and violence as primary tools of creative expression.
ONLY GOD FORGIVES by Nicolas Winding Refn uses sex and violence to deliver some kind of a philosophical discourse about God, righteous conduct, and punishment meted out to those who deviate from the path. The filmmaker believes that the second enemy of creativity ‘after good taste’ is being safe. This is a viscerally conceived surreal film steeped in gory red hues and set in the underworld of Bangkok, Thailand. It is an attempt by the helmer to transcend the barriers of his imagination. He gets ample support from a cast led by Ryan Gosling, one of the most charismatic actors today, who plays Julian, the second son of an ambitious hard-headed woman Crystal (an almost unrecognizable Kristin Scott Thomas) pitted against a righteous retired Bangkok cop Chang (Thai actor Vithaya Pansringarm) who is out to reform and clean his society and punish the guilty. Crystal wants Chang to be dead since he was responsible for the death of her first-born son. She mocks Julian for not having exacted the revenge but Julian has a good and just side to his persona that does not agree with the ways of his cruel mom. Surprisingly, Refn does not go all out and stops short of revelling in extreme violence and in spite of his professed intentions plays quite safe and is not provocative enough and the violent acts are mere caricatures quite akin to the reigning trends in the Asian films of extreme violence, and gore. Compared with HELI by Amat Escalante that depicted an extreme and bone chilling and graphic torture scene where the male organ of a man is shown to be burned with petrol, the violence in ONLY GOD FORGIVES looks more comedic.
The French film LA VIE D’ADELE-CHAPTER 1 & 2 (BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR) by Abdellatif Kechiche is a kind of a coming-of age story of a 15-year-old Adele who gets into a relationship with a boy under peer pressure to discover after her first sexual encounter with him that she is a lesbian. She jumps into a lesbian relationship with a girl with blue hair called Emma, a senior student of painting. Abdellatif dwells long with pornographic abandon of X Art kind on luscious sex scenes between the two as if providing ample scope and space to the audience to get comfortable with the proceedings. Nobody walks out in this nearly three hour-long drama with almost 30 to 40 minutes of graphic lesbian sex. Somehow, lesbian sex is more aesthetically palatable to humanity than gay sex of the kind depicted in STRANGER BY THE LAKE by Alain Guiraudie, an Un Certain Regard selection this year, the screening of which witnessed a kind of mini-exodus. Both the films have explicit scenes of homosexual copulation yet the audience looked at them so differently. Someone should explore this phenomenon a little deeper. YOUNG & BEAUTIFUL, a competition film by Francois Ozon, was another coming-of-age story where a teenage girl discovers that her sexuality can also be monetized and takes to part time prostitution without any moral qualm.
(Rajesh Kumar Singh is Editorial Consultant for Festivals and Markets for BollywoodTrade.com. He is a filmmaker, critic and market analyst)