Infamous Erotic Moments in French Cinema

rust and bone marion cotillard

Note: Contains sexual references.

French cinema, probably more than any other, is full of infamous erotic moments from the New Wave films of Godard in the 60s, right up to the present day works by the likes of Roman Polanski.

From such a large pool to draw from, I have tried to select a list of what I feel to be the standout erotic or sex scenes from contemporary French films. I have also included movies made by directors inspired by a French style of filmmaking.

Top: Marion Cotillard emerges from the sea in “Rust & Bone (2012).
the dreamers eva green bath scene
Bath time in “The Dreamers” by Bernardo Bertolucci.

The Dreamers

The Dreamers” is a film that is stuffed to the rafters with a very French style of eroticism. This basically means we have a lot cigarettes smoked, teenager lovers running through the rainy streets of Paris and discussions of film history while playing lurid sex games. The most infamous moment occurs during such a game, when Eva Green forces Michael Pitt to masturbate to a vintage film postcard after he loses a round. Pretty shocking stuff.

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Nothing says romance like getting caught in a rain storm a la “Lady Chatterley” (2006).

Lady Chatterley

Adapted from the lesser known sequel by D.H. Lawrence, this French version of the classic English story of love and sex among the classes is a lush, beautifully photographed period piece. Marina Hands is perfectly cast as the repressed housewife of a paraplegic husband, drawn to her hunk of a gardener. When these souls are caught alone in the midst of downpour, the scene is set for a classic slice of French eroticism.

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A mysterious man comes out of the waves in “Stranger by the Lake” (2013).

Stranger by the Lake

Here is a fine example of a film that could only ever be made in France and in the French language. Set in a lovely, remote beach that is known as a meeting place for young homosexuals, the movie may be all sun and waves on the surface but beneath this, a very dark erotic story is crafted. “Stranger by the Lake” is a hypnotic movie that stays with you and features its fair share of naked actors strutting about on the sand.

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The controversial sex scenes in “Blue is the Warmest Colour” (2013).

Blue is the Warmest Colour

The explicit lesbian sex scenes in this Palme D’or winning drama have somewhat overshadowed the beauty of the love story at the heart of the film. Exhaustingly told over a three hour plus running time, one nonetheless gets a fully rounded interpretation of a relationship, with all the dizzying highs and melancholy lows to boot. Though to be fair, the sex scenes between the two young women are so graphic they practically cross the line into porn.

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Juliette Binoche enjoys a drag from a cigarette in “Elles” (2011).

Elles

In “EllesJuliette Binoche plays Anne, a journalist writing a piece on female prostitution for a magazine. To do some research she strikes up a relationship with two very different young women who work in this world: the hedonistic Alicja (Joanna Kulig) and the quieter Charlotte (Anaïs Demoustier). Her encounter with these two women shake the comfortable foundations of her world view. In the closing scene we see Anne have an emotional breakdown, wherein she tries to give her husband oral sex while drunk.

rust and bone marion cotillard
A chilled out Marion Cotillard in “Rust & Bone” (2012).

Rust & Bone

An excellent star vehicle for Marion Cotillard, this bruising drama by Jacques Audiard allows the actress to showcase the full extent of her abilities. After losing her legs in a freak killer whale accident Stephanie (Cotillard) strikes up a relationship with father and street fighter Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts). The most sensual moment occurs after both have been for a dip in the glistening blue waters in the South of France: Ali carries Stephanie out of the ocean on his back, the hot sun landing on their bodies. A deep connection is formed between the these two lost souls.

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Ludivine Sagnier soaks up the rays in “Swimming Pool” (2003).

Swimming Pool

In this chilling French thriller, Charlotte Rampling plays Sarah Morton, an English crime novelist who borrows her publishers house in the South of France when suffering from a period of writer’s block. A mysterious young beauty (played by Ludivine Sagnier) appears, claiming to be the daughter of the Sarah’s publisher. A cat and mouse game emerges between the two. Scenes of the glacial Rampling staring down from her balcony at Sagnier’s tanned body by the pool are creepily erotic.

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Sado-masochistic horseplay at work in “The Piano Teacher” (2001).

The Piano Teacher

Master cinematic sadist Michael Haneke is perhaps still best known for “The Piano Teacher.” A shocking psychological thriller is the phrase that springs to mind when describing the film. Isabelle Huppert plays the piano teacher of the title, a brittle ageing woman who falls in love with her young attractive pupil. It is a disturbing look into the heart of obsession and is littered with numerous infamous sexual moments, including one in a public bathroom.

Images © respective film studios.
Christopher Smail

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Christopher is based in the UK, the former assistant editor of Scene360 magazine. Follow the author @ and view more articles.

June 5, 2014 Cinema Special Feature