French conservative values group Promouvoir has won another victory in its crusade against sex and violence on French screens. Lars von Trier’s 2009 drama, Antichrist, which scooped the best actress prize for Charlotte Gainsbourg in Cannes, has seen its operating visa revoked by the Administrative Court of Paris. The court cited “scenes of great violence” and “non-simulated sex” in its Wednesday decision, per multiple reports. The move comes at a time when the industry is seeking reform of the ratings system to keep it out of court and weaken Promouvoir which has spearheaded — and won — campaigns against several major titles in recent months, mostly over sexual content. It’s also particularly disconcerting in a country that so highly values its freedom of expression, and which saw it so devastatingly attacked in 2015.
French film body ARP today came out swinging in response, saying that it was “once again stunned” that judges have challenged a decision made by the culture minister and the Classification Commission, and that a “repressive and extremist association” such as Promouvoir, “should decide what we can and cannot see in France.”
This is the third time that Antichrist — which did its fair share to scandalize the Croisette when it originally debuted — has seen its rating challenged. It was previously banned by the State Council in 2009 and 2012 before being reinstated by the culture ministry with a -16 certificate. Yesterday, judges yanked its certificate again. An appeal is possible, I’m told.
Promouvoir has previously gone after the ratings classifications of Gaspar Noé’s Love, Virginie Despentes’ Baise-Moi, Universal’s Fifty Shades Of Grey and von Trier’s own Nymphomaniac films. In December, it succeeded in stripping 2013 Palme d’Or winner Blue Is The Warmest Color of its visa. That decision was also subject to appeal by the culture minister.
ARP, together with the Directors’ Guild (SRF) today said, “It is astounding that so many films, which have been widely acclaimed in major festivals, and offended the sensibilities of no one — except for the promoters of a new obscurantism — can be barred from the public.”
The groups again implored Culture Minister Fleur Pellerin to take urgent measures
to modernize the system and give “meaning and weight” back to the Classification Commission.
I recently asked Noé whether he expected reforms would come, especially after his experience with Love. In August, the film was bumped up from -16 to -18 (NC-17) in what was believed to be the first time such a change occurred mid-run, and again at the behest of Promouvoir. He laughed and said, “On the internet, there is no ratings system so it’s awkward that people still believe there is a sense to put a rating on a film.” He added, “I wish people were shocked each time they see a gun in a movie. I don’t know why a penis is more shocking than a gun.”
Love was released unrated in the U.S. by Alchemy in December. Noé’s other films like Irreversible and Seul Contre Tous were similarly unrated Stateside which he said didn’t bother him at all. He noted that in Denmark, Love had the maximum rating of -15. “But (cinemas) say if you’re with your parents you can get in if you’re 11. So Denmark is the most open-minded of them all.” Von Trier of course is a Danish filmmaker.
In theory, the economic impact to Antichrist is minimal. If the rating changes, then it would have to change on all forms under which the film is exploited. It’s been out of theaters for seven years, so that would mean DVD, VOD, etc. It would also mean that it can’t be shown on television at certain hours.
It is, however, part of this larger issue surrounding the French ratings system which has typically been more lenient when it comes to sex than violence compared to other markets. The Classification Commission is made up of industry professionals, experts in human sciences and government and youth representatives. Together they make a recommendation to the culture minister who then has the final word.
In its statement today, ARP said the commission “already exercises its vital role in guaranteeing the protection of moviegoers. It is no longer tolerable that [Promouvoir’s attorney] be allowed to make use of defects in our texts in disregard of the legitimacy of this commission.”