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18 June 2021

11 Erotic Movie Scenes To Help You Better Understand Your Desires

Alisa Taezhnaya

When we think of erotic moments in movies, we probably think of sighs and moans, hands clenching at sheets, partners gasping for breath - but is that really what a director wants to show us? Film critic Alisa Taezhnaya shares 11 films in which the sex scenes aren't actually about sex. Instead, these scenes emphasize the nuance and complexities of intimate needs and desires.

“Mulholland Drive”, directed by David Lynch

The one about a blonde and a brunette

After surviving a terrible car crash on Mulholland Drive, a woman completely loses her memory. Frightened and traumatized, she takes refuge in the home of a Hollywood actress, Betty, who tries to help her remember her past and her identity. Betty's hospitality transforms throughout the film as she begins to fall in love. “Mulholland Drive” is a film about sex, thrills, and desires that manifest within dreams and fantasies. David Lynch deftly shuffles the characters: each woman has two names, and their pasts and futures are inextricably linked. The story is told through a series of seemingly unrelated vignettes that eventually connect to form a larger picture. If you watch this movie in the company of Slavoj Žižek you will find  a whole new take on the plot.

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“Enter the Void”, directed by Gaspar Noé

The one about sex in a Tokyo love hotel

"Enter the Void" begins with a conversation about rebirth and ends with rebirth itself as the ghost of a murdered drug dealer says goodbye to everyone he loves while reviewing the best moments of his life. Noe’s bravest film centers around the indissoluble link between a brother and sister who, after losing their parents, experience life caught in a limbo of affection. The protagonist's floating soul travels to a Tokyo sex motel, where he observes intimate moments between strangers. Through this voyeuristic lens, he watches his sister have sex with his best friend. He watches his own parents have sex. The film sheds a unique light on sex and tenderness through one soul’s journey towards rest.

“Thelma”, directed by Joachim Trier

The one about suppressed desire

Thelma is a lonely and repressed young woman who leaves her ultra-religious family to attend university. When she meets another student, Anja, she discovers that her feelings for Anja trigger uncontrollable psychokinetic powers. She realizes that she has the power to control people or objects by going into an erotic, trance-like state that look like psychic self-harm. The first sex scene of the film is a hallucination: while pleasuring herself, a snake slithers around Thelma's neck, and crawls into her mouth. Thelma’s seizures finally stop after a metaphorical scene in which a bird flies from her mouth, only then does she finally realize who she really is.

“Nymphomaniac”, directed by Lars von Trier

The one about spoons

“Nymphomaniac” is a movie about putting life back together when it doesn't make sense any longer. Joe, a self-diagnosed nymphomaniac, clings to the man who took her virginity despite her having hundreds of other partners. Though much of “Nymphomaniac” is told with a grim tone, it's an extremely playful film. As Joe’s character endures trials and tribulations, she remains outrageous and provocative throughout. One of the scenes shows her walking into a café, ordering dessert, and sticking a dozen long dessert spoons into herself while talking to the waiter.

“Matthias & Maxime”, directed by Xavier Dolan 

The one about friends 

Is it a bromance or true attraction? The lifelong friendship of two young men is put to the test when they must kiss each other while acting in a movie. Dolan teases the audience, by sharply cutting the shot to a black screen just before their lips touch. But after this first kiss, nothing more happens physically between the two. “Matthias & Maxime” explores how straight men deal with the pitfalls of intimacy, the script is a critique of male bonding rituals, at times relying on broad characterizations and obvious commentary, but beautiful nonetheless.

“Angel Heart”, directed by Alan Parker

The one about Red Rain at Louisiana

In this film, a detective searches for a missing artist, but finds only corpses. Along his search, he unexpectedly meets Epiphany, a young black girl from Louisiana who is a member of a voodoo group. She lives alone with her small boy. The tension between the two builds and climaxes in a steamy sex scene during a tropical rainstorm. Water literally shoots from the ceiling: what begins as an intense rain soon turns to a morbid storm as blood falls from the sky. It's not easy to figure out where the blood comes from or why the hero is being pursued by death but the raw, almost animalistic desire on screen is undeniably fascinating.

“The Handmaiden”, directed by Park Chan-wook

The one about a soulmate

This story is set in Korea during the Japanese occupation. It begins with a poor girl who earns her living as a maid to a Japanese heiress in a huge mansion. The first part of the film documents a budding romance between the maid and the heiress through a series of erotically charged scenes. In one prominent scene, the heiress complains of a painfully sharp tooth while her maid bathes her. To soothe the heiress’s pain, the maid runs her finger in and out of Hideko's mouth, looking into her eyes as she scrapes down the sharp tooth with a thimble on her finger. During this scene, the only sound we hear is the scraping of the thimble on the tooth as the sexual tension builds. As the story unfolds, it is presented to us from three perspectives. Sex scenes repeat themselves from different viewpoints and a beautiful queer love story emerges.

“Belle de Jour”, directed by Luis Buñuel

The one about a housewife

The film is about a young woman named Séverine - the beautiful but frigid wife of a young doctor named Pierre. Séverine has a regular fantasy which involves Pierre punishing her by having his coachman drag her from his carriage. The coachman then binds, gags, whips, and rapes her. As the film progresses, the line between "fantasy" and "reality" becomes increasingly blurred. Haunted by childhood memories, Séverine goes to a high-class brothel, where she starts spending her midweek afternoons as a prostitute, while her husband is at work. Her double life results in a tragic outcome. This film is about the repercussions of suppressing the self as a fulfilled fantasy becomes a nightmare.

“Caligula”, directed by Tinto Brass

The one about Caligula

Caligula was infamous for his megalomania, dictatorship, sexual promiscuity, and extreme violence toward his opponents. A man who dreamed of ultimate power and fought for it. His political achievements pale in comparison to his personal life, in which he married four women (none of whom were single) and entertained incestuous connections with his sisters. His life could provide an excellent setting for an erotic thriller, however int his film, the producers altered the orginal screenplay’s tone and style significantly, adding hardcore sex scenes, thus turning “Caligula” into erotic drama featuring Penthouse Pets as extras in unstimulating sex scenes.It's still an intriguing film despite - there are scenes of group sex that authentically reflect the adult cinema industry in the 1970s. Viewers can also enjoy a weighty story about a tyrant whose survival was dependent on proving his might to others.

“Bitter Moon”, directed by Roman Polanski

The one about a packet of milk

Roman Polanski enjoys stretching the limits in many of his films. After being accused of sexual assault in the United States, he settled in Europe where he still lives and works today. Moments of no return are a recurring theme amongst  Polanski's biography and the storylines of his films. Often he features characters who experience irreversible loss in his stories. In “Bitter Moon”, the main character meets a woman whose games bring them both deep misfortune,leaving the main character scarred. In one scene, the mistress, played by Polanski's wife Emmanuelle Seigner, spills a carton of milk on her breasts, which the main character, Coyote, licks clean.  At a crucial moment, the toaster pops. Hour after hour, day after day, we witness a romance that develops into a dangerous obsession. This film is a monument to the objectification of a woman.

“Intimacy”, directed by Patrice Chéreau

The one about two strangers

A man and a woman meet for short, anonymous sex every Wednesday afternoon. They want to keep it to that: no names, no small talk. Intimacy ­by Chéreau is less about sex than about the thorny subject of real emotion. It depicts two people who are not conventionally attractive, but are instead ordinary and that's what makes the story remarkable. Their private meetings are a continuation of a mundane existence, where nothing happens and there is little-to-no opportunity to express themselves. However, as they come to know each other better over time, the magic of intimacy fades and ordinary life with its neuroses returns. The intention is not to thrill the audience. Chéreau turns un-polished human sexuality into a prosaic norm and concentrates on the building and loss of trust. Most individuals are reluctant to expose their true-self, but this truest self cannot be hidden for long.

*This article was originally published in Russian.