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Nudity and sex in cinema


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I was watching movies directed by world-acclaimed artistes one after the other shuttling among the theatres of Regal, NFC, MC Superior, Empire Cineplex and Goethe Institut. It was a wonderful experience. The movies showed during the film festival were not censored, which was an achievement considering the fact that there is a Cultural Police operating in Sri Lanka and sometime back when Fanny and Alexander by Ingmar Bergman was brought in for a film festival, some scenes were censored and the organiser TissaAbeysekara had to withdraw the film from the festival. Recently the film Aksharaya was banned from public screening. Sex is taboo in Sri Lankan society mainly in middle class where Victorian values, which were the moral views of the people living in England in 19th century during the time of Queen Victoria, prevail. The Cultural Police operates under these circumstances. This social taboo is one reason for the sexual harassment against women in Sri Lanka. Robert Knox in his book An Historical Relation of Ceylon, written in 1698 relating the period of Rajasinghe II, stated about Sri Lankan society as follows: “Where their houses consist but of one room, the children that are of any years always go and sleep in other houses among their neighbours… For so they come to meet with bedfellows, nor doth it displease the parents… So that youth are bred up to whoredom…” Vinaya Pitaka In the Vinaya Pitaka, the Buddha said that to engage with sexual intercourse is one of the conditions to lose Bhikku-hood. There cannot be any taboo in describing it in literature since it had to be done. Vinaya Pitaka further describes the rule as follows. “If a Bhikkhu puts his sex in the sex, anus or mouth of a human being, man or woman – as well as in his own anus or in his own mouth –, an animal (male or female) or a dead body even if it is of the length of a sesame seed, he loses his status as a Bhikkhu (for life). Even if he does it while having his sex in plaster, in a condom, wearing the clothes of a layman, or being fully naked or not feeling any sensation (due to loss of tactile sensation on the sexual parts of the body for example), in the same way, he loses his status as a Bhikkhu.” Three of the cases and the rulings are given below: “Opponents of monks having brought a human woman into a monk’s presence associate his male organ with these three places. If he agrees to application, if he agrees to entry, if he agrees to remaining, if he agrees to taking out, there is an offence involving defeat. Opponents of monks… if he does not agree to application, but agrees to entry, to remaining, to taking out, there is an offence involving defeat.” “Now at that time the monk called Sundara, who had gone forth from Rajagaha, was walking along a carriage road. A certain woman said: ‘Wait, honoured sir, for a moment, I will pay homage to you.’ As she was paying homage she held up his inner garment and took hold of his male organ. On account of this he was remorseful… ‘…Monk, did you agree?’  I did not agree, lord,’ he said. ‘There is no offence, monk, as you did not agree.’” “Now at that time a certain monk was in love with a certain woman. She died, and her bones were thrown in the chamel-ground and scattered. Then the monk, going to the cemetery, collected the bones and behaved in an unsuitable way. On account of this he was remorseful….’ ‘…Monk, there is no offence involving defeat, there is an offence of wrongdoing.’” In the Sathipattanasutta, the Buddha said: “And how, Bhikkus, does a Bhikku dwell perceiving again and again five hindrances as just the five hindrances? Here (in this teaching), Bhikkus, while sense-desire (kamachchanda) is present in him, a Bhikku knows, ‘There is sense-desire present in me’; or while sense- desire is not present in him, he knows, ‘There is no sense-desire is present in me’…” They are all phenomena to be observed, good or bad in social context, and not to be tabooed. As Hermann Hesse said in Siddhartha in 1922, ‘all this is life’. Nudity and sex cannot be out of bounds Nudity and sex are part and parcel of life. Therefore they cannot be out of bounds for any artiste, including a film director. A film director can use nudity and sex in different ways. One way is to impose sex scenes deliberately without any connection to the main theme of the film in order to attract a particular audience, which is not appropriate. What happens is that the audience simply enjoys the sex scene. Another way is to impose a nude or sex scene as an essential part of the film although the audience simply enjoys nudity or sex. One example was El Condor directed by John Guillermin in 1970 where an attack was launched against a fortress which was said to contain gold reserves. The wife of the commander of the fortress was nude, anticipating her husband in bed. The soldiers of the fortress were watching this scene together with the audience of the film, sacrificing their alertness, which paved the way for the enemy to overcome them. Another way is to incorporate nudity and sex as part and parcel of the main theme so that the audience cannot enjoy the nudity or sex as it is since those scenes are strongly linked to the main theme. In a German film the writer watched a long time ago, the relationship between a husband and wife, where husband was an author and wife was a librarian, deteriorated when an uneducated young man came in between them. Although there was intellectual relationship between the husband and wife, the relationship between the young man and the woman was purely sexual. She gradually realised this and was sad about what she had done. At one point when there was sexual intercourse between the young man and the woman, the woman stabs the young man to death. The audience would not be obsessed with the sex scene since the director depicted it in such a way that raw sex was nothing but tragedy. A long time back the writer watched a German film where a relationship developed between a male African migrant and an old woman. Both of them for various reasons were not accepted by society. What the director was trying to say was that when bondages with society loosen, the bondage between lovers would get stronger. The sexual relationship between the African migrant and the old woman could be watched distantly because of the age of the woman and the director would have intentionally chosen an old actress. This alienation effect was first discussed and used by Bertolt Brecht in theatre which was the opposite of the promotion of ‘rasa’ or emotions identified by Bharatha Muni in his Natya Shastha in 1st century BC. The challenge of the film director is to keep the audience distracted from the nudity and sex scenes while attracting them to the main theme. Carlos Reygadas films At the Colombo Film Festival the writer was fortunate to watch three films by world-renowned Director Carlos Reygadas, namely, Japan, Silent Light and Light After Darkness out of four films screened. All three were awarded at Cannes Film Festival in 2002, 2007 and 2012 respectively. In the film Japan, a painter who wanted to commit suicide went to a remote canyon and stayed at the barn of a very old religious woman (this woman was much older than the woman in the German film which was described earlier) in order to reach some calmness. At the discussion when asked why the title Japan was used, Reygadas responded that since the main character was undergoing a samurai type of experience at a hilly area, he selected the title Japan. In this film a relationship between the man and the old woman built up and he abandoned the idea of suicide after nearly attempting it. The day before he left, the man suggested to the old woman that they should have sexual intercourse. The film shows their naked bodies and sexual intercourse. Reygadas said at the discussion that this actress was very pious and only revealed her body to her husband. However, he managed to convince the actress that she should face this scene at the film and all that she should do was to be guided by the directions of the main actor. In the film the man told her to turn this way and that way and finally they were engaged. During a brief private discussion with the writer when the question was asked whether he selected the character of this old woman rather than a younger one since when the relationship built up and finally when sexual intercourse took place the audience would be alienated from the characters especially the old woman and they would be better equipped to understand the main theme, Reygadas responded affirmatively with a pleasant smile. Silent Night was a masterpiece. The film starts with a sunrise and ends with a sunset in natural phase. It was like a huge painting. Someone said at the discussion that the film was slow and Reygadas asked, ‘in comparison to what?’ Probably in comparison to Goliath, Hollywood and Bollywood cinema, which have corrupted the minds of the audiences as expressed by Sumithra Peiris at the public forum of the film festival. The writer would say that the film was certainly faster than life itself. The sex scenes were essential since the film was painting a picture of a relationship of a married man with another woman with the knowledge of his wife. There were 92 films all together, including a certified copy of Abbas Kiarostami, from across 30 countries representing all continents, shown in five theatres from 3 to 7 September. All were award-winning films. In addition to that there were short films as well. We congratulate Asoka Handagama and the Film Directors Guild of Sri Lanka for the excellent work done. (The writer is a Chartered Accountant by profession and holds a Master of Business Administration degree awarded by the Postgraduate Institute of Management of University of Sri Jayewardenepura.)

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