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Sex and Movies: hot from AFI

 For AFI online dailies By LANE KNEEDLER, AFI FEST Senior Programmer


"I liked the idea that I could use this as a medium for making a (sort of) narrative video, and at the same time it is a document of a very particular online culture. I mean here I am having "sex" and this guy is talking about how his computer is "lagging" -- I think that's hilarious but it's not like, as a society, we weren't having disconnected sex before Second Life."

Valerie Brewer director of UNTITLED #2

Oh yeah...who says a film festival can't be a little naughty? From the hypersexual fun of VIVA, writer/director/star Anna Biller's note-perfect parody of '70s sexploitation films to the lush, surreal vision of life as Japanese courtesan in SAKURAN, starring Japanese pop superstar Anna Tsuchiya, there is definitely something saucy in the air this year. Of course, sex is a serious issue too, as can be seen in SOLOS from Singapore, which tracks the dying gasps of a forbidden relationship between a male teacher and his student.

What is it about film this year that has led to such innovative and intelligent depictions of sexual behavior on film? The rule seems to be, in an increasingly puritanical or repressed environment, sexuality becomes ever more prominent in the arts. In any culture of repression, the arts will react with deeper sexual explorations. The ironic flipside to this is embodied in Anna Biller's VIVA. It's a heightened deadpan portrait of the '70s. The film is essentially a recreation of soft-core pornography from that era. It captures perfectly the empty and slightly cold nature of human sexuality in a culture that is so embarrassingly open.

The U.S. is not the only country with this sort of puritanical atmosphere. This year is the first time a film from Singapore premieres at AFI FEST. SOLOS is about the relationship between two men, a teacher and a student. Shot in black and white on a very low budget, the film manages to be a beautiful and meditative portrait of modern love and sex.

"When you insert so-called 'taboo' topics like homosexuality in films produced from our region, the difficulty is that you automatically get pigeon holed into a certain category of films by both audiences and the authorities," says director Loo Zihan.

In Singapore it is a crime to be a homosexual and men can be imprisoned for even holding hands in public. Making a film in that atmosphere can be difficult.

"Many people aren't able to see beyond the sex and sexuality in the film, and that frustrates me," says Zihan.

Probably the society most similar to America's in terms of the complicated relationship with fetishization and repression is Japan. At AFI FEST this is best represented by SAKURAN. This film, based on the popular manga of the same name, revolves around the exploits and adventures of a young courtesan who seeks to become the Orirna or most valued prostitute. It's an explosive, provocative, colorful and fun portrait of a culture's complicated relationship with sexuality and the various roles in society that exist to serve the base needs of men. It's a wonderfully different look at the power of women in a society where they might not have much authority.

The arts are a reflection of the human experience and there is no more provocative and interesting intersection of humanity and society than sex. Sexual repression and sexual representation are common themes in art since the dawn of society. This year, filmmakers from around the world have explored human sexuality in fascinating and wholly original ways.


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