Sexy Love Triangle Drama ‘Passages’ Gets NC-17 Rating, Director Slams Decision as ‘Cultural Censorship That’s Quite Dangerous’

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Ira Sachs’ sexy Sundance drama “Passages” has received an NC-17 rating by the MPA but will be released unrated by MUBI, the distributor confirms to Variety. MUBI called the rating “unexpected” and said it was “deeply disappointed by the MPA’s decision.”

“MUBI has officially rejected this NC-17 rating,” the distributor added. “MUBI remains committed to releasing ‘Passages’ nationwide in its original version as the filmmaker intended, with our full backing, unrated and uncut.”

“Passages” centers on a love triangle in Paris between a movie director (Franz Rogowski), his artist husband (Ben Whishaw) and a grade-school teacher (Adèle Exarchopoulos, no stranger to NC-17 controversies as the star of “Blue Is the Warmest Color”) he meets out one night. The film includes several sex scenes in which the actors are fully nude, but none of them are salacious or gratuitous. One scene centers on the husbands having sex and is shot in an unbroken long take that runs just over two minutes.

“There’s no untangling the film from what it is,” Sachs told the Los Angeles Times in an interview about the film’s NC-17 rating. “It is a film that is very open about the place of sexual experience in our lives. And to shift that now would be to create a very different movie.”

“To make an interesting sex scene is not easy,” Sachs continued. “Each of the sex scenes to me is a chapter in the film. It has a story. And I wanted each one to have its own relevance and have its own details and be interesting to the audience. I think making interesting sex scenes is the hardest thing…What I tried to track here was to not look at sex, but to look at intimacy, not constructed through editing and avoidance.”

Sachs concluded, “We hunger for movies that are in any proximity to our own experience, and to find a movie like this, which is then shut out, is, to me, depressing and reactionary. It’s really about a form of cultural censorship that is quite dangerous, particularly in a culture which is already battling, in such extreme ways, the possibility of LGBT imagery to exist.”

NC-17 movies have gotten lots of attention in recent months thanks to the release of Netflix’s “Blonde,” a Marilyn Monroe biopic that scored Ana de Armas an Oscar nomination for best actress, and Neon’s “Infinity Pool,” which director Branden Cronenberg re-cut so that it could be released with an R-rating. Sachs will do no such thing with “Passages.”

The MPA once infamously gave the Michelle Williams-Ryan Gosling marital drama “Blue Valentine” an NC-17 rating due to one scene in Gosling’s character performs oral sex on Williams’ character. The film’s distributor, The Weinstein Company, aggressively fought the MPA over the decision and ultimately got the rating overturned. The film was released with an R rating. Sachs isn’t taking this route either.

Variety film critic Peter Debruge hailed “Passages” as “a brutally honest portrait of a train-wreck relationship” in his review out of Sundance. “Passages” will be released in theaters unrated on Aug. 4