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Michael Reed 13th July 2004it

Just watched. I had wanted to see this film ever since I first heard about it so, I was excited to see it sitting on the bottom shelf in Cash Converters. I was already moderately familiar with Hanif Kureishi as I had read one of his short stories, which I greatly enjoyed. The box was a bit battered so it was marked at 1 pound but with the half price sale in effect, that made it 50p. Actual tape condition was good.

The re-occurring theme of this film is that of boundaries and of crossing those boundaries: A man violating the assumed boundaries of his anonymous, monosyllabic, sexual relationship with a married woman by following her and entering into her personal life; She breaks her marriage vows; The woman’s husband exceeds typical conversational familiarity with a complete stranger; The social standards of mainstream society are crossed in a squat environment; Conventions of a romantic context existing in a sexual encounter are disregarded; a literal, physical barrier, one of safety is being disregarded in the case of condoms and forgetting to put one on in the heat of passion; In the theater group the actors are trying to cross the boundary of committing emotionally to a scene. The dialog is often philosophical in nature and philosophy is concerned with exploring meaning rather than assuming conventional attitudes.

Why are these people crossing these boundaries? Perhaps the only clue to this comes from considering where they are crossing to. The main character is searching for some meaning in life. He is asking himself what he wants and satisfying this desire in a crude, direct way. He is fulfilling a sexual desire with a woman but without the periphery of a normal relationship. The term ‘relationship’ could only be used in the strictest sense rather than the popular meaning when describing the way in which these two people interact. They have no conversation outside of utilitarian necessity.

But, the main character is not a desensitized person. He is a feeling, thinking being and the source of his angst is that he is asking ‘why?’. He wants some meaning. And he wants to to know what he wants. He tries to fulfill his needs in a direct way but afterwards, he is still unsatisfied.

These are philosophical questions that the film is posing – What are the social conventions that bind us in regard to our sexual relationships? What happens if we abandoned those conventions and stripped the sexual relation ship to it’s essential components? What are the dangers of this approach? The main character is not an anarchist but is abandoning convention by acting in an authentic manner. He calculates what he wants to do and then he does it.

Ironically, the film also crosses another boundary, but one of British cinema. Some of the sex scenes go beyond the the typical limits of what the BBFC would allow. The film features acclaimed actress Kerry Fox (An Angel At My Table, Shallow Grave) actually felating the male actor and in another scene arousing him manually and a few scenes briefly show his aroused, erect penis. The BBFC made the controversial decision to pass these scenes uncut.

I am in two minds about the BBFC’s decision in this case – Yes, I feel that I should have been allowed to see these scenes if I wanted to. But, the BBFC made this decision because this is an ‘art’ film. I think the rules about what is decent should not depend on how ‘artistic’ the film is. To my mind, this means that the BBFC are making a moral judgment about art. Who is to say that a hypothetical ‘Carry On…’ style film that featured hardcore sex scenes is indecent, liable to cause harm or offensive whilst a serious film with artistic merit and the same type of sex scenes is not? Some would argue that the opposite is true; that a frivolous, superficial film who’s only function is that of deliberate and unashamed titillation of the viewer is less offensive and less likely to ‘corrupt and deprave’ (a phrase that is part of the the government’s definition of ‘indecency’) the viewer.

I suspect that it is possible to make meaningful, entertaining films and films of artistic merit without nudity and without sex scenes. However, I am sure that very few films would be truly stifled artistically if absent of scenes in which the actors actually have sex together. And I say this as a fan of pornography. A new convention of allowing hardcore sex scenes in mainstream films is open to abuse by cynical film makers – Images of sexual activity and nudity = $$$ in our society and that is a fact.

I’m sorry to harp on about the sexual content of the film but I will make one more point: Guardian reader style film critics assure us that the sex scenes are not arousing or erotic. To this I would say, don’t believe everything that you read in the Guardian or anything that you are told by one of its readers. A Guardian reader is so sophisticated that very little arouses him/her. I am not a Guardian reader.

Here’s another irony – the film is good. I’d be sitting and smugly shaking my head at what a great little British film I had picked up even if I had never heard of it and it’s notorious sexual content. There isn’t a great deal of plot, in a conventional sense, but lack of coherent motives and explanations was obviously intended in this exploration of the life of a man who is desperately searching for some meaning.

The acting is mostly naturalistic and the actors generate a feeling of realism by apparently pausing and thinking and murmuring. You can see them being effected by things that happen and them wondering how they should proceed.

Visually, the film has a nice style – I wouldn’t mind seeing it in wide screen. The score is apt and sets the mood well.

In conclusion, a good film if you like moody, introspective, character driven films that pose philosophical questions.

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