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July 05, 2000 12:17pm
French Cinemas Defy Ban
Source: AP
by: Marilyn August

(PARIS, FRANCE) -- A violent, sexually explicit movie that opens with a harrowing rape scene has outraged France's political conversatives and provided a rallying point for defenders of artistic expression.

Last week, France's Council of State, responsible for interpreting rules and regulations, declared the film pornographic and that it could incite violence, exiling it to the country's few X-rated theaters. The film's title is an obscene sexual command.

Two mainstream distributors have defied the ban by showing the movie to adult audiences, risking large fines.

The film, which was screened at the Cannes Film Festival in May, passed almost unnoticed until a citizens' group with links to the far right complained that it was unsuitable for minors.

France's film critics have panned the movie, with the respected Le Monde daily newspaper calling it ``a sick film.'' The weekly Le Nouvel Observateur said it ``throws sex in your face to sell blood and gore.''

Considered a road movie, the film is the story of two young women - played by a former prostitute and a pornography star - who team up in a rampage of mindless sex and violence. Directed by Virginie Despentes, the movie purportedly is meant to reflect society's brutal treatment of women.

Movie distributors Marin Karmitz and Galeshka Moravioff told French media they would reject the ban and demanded that the movie be reclassified for a wider audience. Karmitz said by telephone that he refused to be muzzled by pressure from far right groups.

``I'm continuing to show the movie because the council's decision undermines freedom of expression and could have serious consequences, not only for the French cinema, but for the arts in general,'' he said.

Theaters risk fines of up to $51,000 for continuing to show the film.

The debate has been front-page news for the past week in France, where artistic freedom often goes unchallenged, and nudity is commonplace on television.

Culture Minister Catherine Tasca has not yet reclassified the movie but told RTL radio Wednesday that she would introduce ``as soon as possible'' a proposal for a new under-18-prohibited rating that would allow the film to remain in general cinemas and not be X-rated.

French director Catherine Breillat has accused the Council of State of overstepping its role as protector of the constitution.

``Now there exists a higher body that has given itself the right to impose censure: it just took waving the specter of pornography and the protection of moral values,'' she wrote in petition signed by dozens of film personalities.

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