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July 06, 2000 01:15am
Gauls agape over ``Rape''
Source: Reuters/Variety
by: Alison James

(PARIS, FRANCE) -- The creme de la creme of French cinema, flanked by politicians, writers and assorted celebs, took to the streets of Paris on Wednesday to defend ``Rape Me,'' a sex- and violence-filled movie pulled from French cinemas in a censorship row.

Directors Claude Berri, Jean-Luc Godard and Patrice Chereau were among 200 people who signed a petition calling for the film's return to local screens.

The picture, a kind of hard-core ``Thelma and Louise'' in which two young women very graphically sleep and murder their way across France, was co-directed by cult Gallic writer Virginie Despentes and porn filmmaker Coralie Trinh-Thi.

``Rape Me'' opened on 64 screens in France last week with a not-for-under-16 rating. Two days after its release, however, the State Council, the country's highest legal authority, stripped the film of its license after complaints from family-values campaigners that the classification failed to protect minors ages 16-18.

The council described the film as ``an unbroken series of extremely crude sex scenes and of images of particular violence that may deeply disturb certain spectators.''

Wednesday night's demonstration took place in front of an MK2 cinema in Paris' Latin Quarter. The theater is one of 20 that have been defying the State Council's ruling.

The film was due to be withdrawn Thursday, however, while distributor Pan Europeenne awaits changes in the French law that will allow its re-release.

Culture Minister Catherine Tasca promised Wednesday that she would hasten a decree creating an over-18 license, closing the loophole in the law that caused ``Rape Me'' to be banished from general release.

Until that happens, however, a passionate debate seems likely to continue in France over the State Council's right to act as cultural and moral arbiter in defiance of both the censorship board and the culture minister, who endorsed the not-for-under-16 rating.

The film's producer, Phillipe Godeau, called the council's ruling a ``threat to democracy.'' Many members of the French film community were particularly appalled that the panel had bowed to a family-values group close to France's extreme right.

Bruno Megret, leader of the far right National Republican Movement, congratulated the group for ``blocking the film's promoters' attempts to undermine our civilized values.''

While vigorously defending the right to screen ``Rape Me,'' French critics have mostly panned the film for failing to live up to its artistic ambitions.

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