In the age of 50 Shades of Grey, the genuine, long-term aficionado of erotic literature/cinema naturally feels conflicted. He/she is happy that interest in his/her preferred genre of art is being revived, but also mournful that the works generating this renaissance are of such lamentable quality.
To play my own part in steadying this unbalanced gift of fortune, I will list here my choices for the best five works of serious erotic cinema; works which, unlike 50 Shades, look set to stand the tests of scrutiny and time.
5. Ma Mere
Incest, being a perennial and universal taboo, is an inevitably rich vein for an eroticist to tap. Ma Mere, a loose adaptation of a short story by the great French novelist-critic Georges Bataille, is clear evidence of the power the topic still has to unsettle and shock.
4. The Piano Teacher
Adapted from Elfriede Jelinek’s novel, one of the greatest and deepest literary treatments of sadomasochism in recent memory, The Piano Teacher, like Ma Mere, stars Isabelle Huppert, whose versatility is seemingly endless, and whose curious beauty provides this otherwise sombre exploration of female sexual repression with a hard erotic kick.
3. The Story of O
Pauline Reage’s (Anne Desclos’s) classic 1954 novel is too rich in imaginative detail to capture perfectly on screen. But this adaptation invests enough effort to be worthy of a place on this list. I simply love the book too much to fail to admire any tribute to it.
Gaspar Noe is without a doubt my favourite contemporary director. His films, from I Stand Alone to this stunningly shot celebration of the visual beauty of sexual intercourse have repeatedly broken new ground in European cinema. In a world-culture dripping with the most vulgar and thoughtless forms of pornography, forms which cheapen and demean the magic of sex, Love is a both timely and effective counterblast.
1. Bitter Moon
Roman Polanski’s personal troubles aside, this terribly underrated 1992 masterpiece is simply awesome in its erotic power. I can still vividly recall seeing it for the first time as a teenager on (UK) Channel 4’s late-night ‘taboo’ season. The breakfast scene will always remain deeply imprinted on my memory. I truly believe it prodded awake a hitherto undisturbed perversion in my soul.
In conclusion, despite the giggling ignorance of many mainstream critics, erotic cinema is a serious and multi-faceted art-form. The films listed here are excellent examples of its potential.
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