Unconventional Romances Turn Up the Heat by Elizabeth Eckhart
If Valentine’s Day left you out in the cold, a steamy serving of Hollywood romance might be just what the doctor ordered. Why not spend the night with your favorite leading lady (or man) and indulge in something a bit erotic?
With the Fifty Shades of Grey film adaptation now playing nationwide, one could argue that this is the hottest February we’ve seen in years. The books, and now the film, have opened up a whole new realm of carnal possibilities for many Americans. Perhaps it all comes down to our puritanical roots, but in today’s hyper-sexualized society we still tend to cling to our prudish conceptions of human sexuality.
These movies do their best to “flesh out” our most intimate and inexpressible desires. Read on for list of films that are sure to challenge your own ideas of what’s hot and what’s not.
Fifty Shades of Grey
No list of lovelorn post-Val’s Day films could forgo mentioning this controversial and captivating romance. After enjoying a weekend of record breaking sales, this cinematic adaptation of the first 50 Shades novel exposed thousands of Americans to a different breed of erotic thriller. While some in the bondage, domination and sadomasochism communities claim it’s a vanilla portrayal of real BDSM interactions, for many it represents the equivalent of dipping one’s toe into a pool of new sexual possibilities. It hasn’t been gaining very high marks in other respects, but in this case, shock comes before substance. And for fans of the books, it only makes sense to want to see Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele interact in the flesh.
Belle de Jour
For American viewers, this 1967 French classic highlights different conceptions of sex across the cultures. Directed by Luis Bunuel and based on the novel by Joseph Kessel, the film tells the story of Séverine (played by Catherine Deneuve), a painfully chic and painfully bored housewife. Her feelings of existential malaise extend into the bedroom, where her husband fails to share her desires. After too many nights spent fantasizing about the type of sadomasochistic sex she needs, Séverine is introduced to the idea of becoming a prostitute. From there she can be found working only from 2-5 in the afternoon as a “Belle de Jour” in Madame Anais’ Parisian brothel. Surrealistic elements and wonderful acting and have made this film one of the best “French New Wave” pictures and earned it a rightful place atop many “best” lists.
The Night Porter
A classic despite its highly controversial subject matter, it was considered by some to be groundbreaking and bold while other critics, such as Roger Ebert, found it only “as nasty as it is lubricious.” This 1974 film by director Liliana Cavani takes some of the darkest remnants of human history and melds them with the darkness present in certain sadomasochistic relationships. The couple at the center of the film are Maximilian (played by Dirk Bogarde) and Lucia (Charlotte Rampling) who, by chance, run into each other thirteen years after the end of WWII. They first met when Max was an SS officer and Lucia was a prisoner in his concentration camp. Finding their undiminished passions for one another too much to resist, they resume the depraved sexual relationship that began those many years ago. Throughout the film we see flashbacks in which Max serves as both Lucia’s tormentor and protector - moments that of course include the famous scene of Lucia performing a Marlene Dietrich song dressed in a Nazi military cap and not much else. The Night Porter is not for the faint of heart nor those who consider themselves prudish, but for those who are interested, it’s stylistically fantastic.
Nymphomaniac (Vol. I & II)
Another polarizing film from the celebrated and ceaselessly controversial Lars Von Trier, it was originally released as two separate films due to time constraints (you can view the original, full length version via streaming platforms such as Netflix and DirecTV). Luckily, the editing of the film did little compromise its story, which is that of a woman’s sexual journey from adolescence to adulthood. The woman in question, Jo (played by Stacy Martin in the early years and Charlotte Gainsbourg as an adult) has an insatiable desire for sex that eventually drives her into the seedy world of underground BDSM. By the end of the film, you’ve been witness to graphic scenes of S&M, bondage, and various other acts that seem to serve as a metaphor for Jo’s wolfish desires. Others have described her “punishments” as the pain a woman endures for bearing the lustful desires of a man. Regardless, it’s a highly thought-provoking film that is bound to raise some eyebrows as well as some important questions.
While this list might not be for all of us, it serves to highlight several movies that push commonly accepted boundaries of sexual expression on film. A continued discussion on human intimacy and the nature of desire are beyond the scope of this article, but by taking one of these films tonight you can get the conversation started at home - or in the bedroom.
Elizabeth, great post! I suspected that E.L. James was not the first to capitalize on kinky sex. I hope 50 Shades along with these other movies are not taken seriously. Don't get me wrong-I believe in the privacy of consenting adults. However, I fear women with low self-esteem might think that this is what the expectation is in today's dating realm. Thanks for stopping by. Welcome all comments and questions!