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Yorgos Lanthimos: ‘It Drives Me Mad’ Violence Thrives Onscreen and ‘Then We’re So Prudish About Sexuality’

Yorgos Lanthimos is baffled by the “prudishness” surrounding sex onscreen.

The “Poor Things” auteur said during a joint interview with actress-producer Emma Stone for The New York Times that it was “never an issue” to include the various (and arguably, graphic) intimate scenes in the film.

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“Poor Things” is based on Alasdair Gray’s 1992 novel about a woman (Stone) who drowns herself to escape her abusive husband and is later resurrected with the brain of her unborn child, and renamed Bella Baxter. During the course of coming of age, Bella discovers her sexual freedom and at one point works as a Parisienne prostitute. The film won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival where IndieWire’s Ryan Lattanzio called the “brazenly weird sex comedy” an “instant classic” that was one of the “raunchiest” movies of the year.

“For me, that aspect was never an issue,” Lanthimos told The New York Times. “Sex in movies, or nudity — I just never understood the prudishness around it. It always drives me mad how liberal people are about violence and how they allow minors to experience it in any way, and then we’re so prudish about sexuality.”

Lanthimos added of filming sex scenes that it was “just very intimate” and even lacked a boom operator for sound to keep the set as closed as possible.

Actress Stone weighed in, saying, “Whenever there was a scene like that, it was only four people in the room, other than whatever actor might be in there. There was Yorgos and our [director of photography] Robbie Ryan, who looks at me like I am a lamp — he’s seen me naked so many times, it’s so beyond nothing — and then Hayley [Williams, the first assistant director], and Olga [Abramson], our focus puller. That was the room. And also, an amazing intimacy coordinator [Elle McAlpine].”

Stone continued that she was “proud” of the unabashed sex shown in “Poor Things.”

“That’s Bella,” Stone said of her character. “She has no shame about her body and her sexuality and who she is, and I am so proud of that aspect of the film.”

Lanthimos explained while at the Venice Film Festival press conference following the film’s world premiere that longtime collaborator Stone recognized how “intrinsic” sex scenes were for the film.

“Why is there no sex in movies?” Lanthimos asked. “First of all, it was a very intrinsic part of the novel itself, her freedom about everything, including sexuality. And secondly, it was very important for me to not make a film which was gonna be prude because that would be completely betraying the main character. We had to be confident and again, like the character, have no shame.”

He continued, “We sat down with Emma at some point, especially for the sex scenes, we just sat down and decided, ‘What kind of position would they be in here? What kind of thing would they do there?’ What’s missing from the experience of sex and the different desires that people have that we need to portray to make enough of a representation of human desire and its idiosyncracies?”

Lanthimos added that Stone also “had to have no shame about her body, nudity, engaging in those scenes, and she understood that right away. The great thing about myself and Emma is that now we’ve completed like four films together. There’s a shorthand. As soon as I started saying something like I just said, she said, ‘Yes, of course, I understand, it’s Bella. We’ll do what we need to do.'”

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