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Promote Supports Ban On “Irreversible”

Press Release 21 October 2004


The Upper Hutt-based community group PROMOTE has today supported the application of the Society to the Film and Literature Board of Review, to have the French anal rape-revenge film “Irreversible” banned. Its submission to the Board was included in supporting documents presented to and accepted by the Board president, Ms Claudia Elliott at its public hearing at the Department of Internal Affairs. Society spokesperson David Lane said that the Society was pleased to have the group’s support. The submission from PROMOTE is copied below.




15 October 2004

The film IRREVERSIBLE, directed by Gaspar Noe, is “objectionable” because it describes and depicts matters of “sex”, “cruelty” and “violence”, sexual violence, and “crime”, “in such a manner that the availability of the publication is likely to be injurious to the public good.” Its content, as the decision of the Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC) has acknowledged, must bring it within these categories of the “subject matter gateway” outlined in s. 3(1) of the Films, Videos and Publications Classification Act 1993 (“the Act”). PROMOTE would go further than the OFLC and argue that it includes elements of “horror” also identified in s. 3(1), depicted in a manner that is also “injurious to the public good”. For example, quoting from the OFLC report:

“The anal rape of the character Alex is shown as an horrific, brutalising act [and is accompanied by a] “misogynistic running commentary that includes, ‘Spread your legs, bitch,’ ‘Take this in your ass, c*nt’ and ‘You sh*t on me and you’re dead’. “The rape is followed by a vicious beating [with the assailant] punching her face and smashing her head against the ground, all the while issuing a constant stream of abuse.”

“The revenge murder committed in an early scene is shown as an horrific act of extreme violence. It consists of a depiction of more than twenty blows with a fire extinguisher, an attack of steady ferocity that continues long after the victim is clearly dead. Although the scene is darkly lit (in blood red) the audience sees the man’s face and head beaten to a misshapen pulp.” [Emphasis added]

The eroticisation of a violent criminal act of murder and the potential for sexual arousal in the rape scene are deeply troubling to all the members of PROMOTE. The clear association of sexual pleasure, gratuitously depicted, with violence would increase the likelihood that some male viewers might identify with the rapist. The deliberate sexualised appearance of Alex (well documented) and the gratuitous depiction of the rapist’s fondling of her body might support an interpretation of joint pleasure between rapist and victim (this was raised as a real concern by Rape Crisis in their 2003 submission). The depiction of the rape in real time offers the maximum opportunity for misogynistic pleasure. Some viewers will identify with the rapist and may focus on the self-absorbed pursuit of his own sexual gratification. The length of the rape scene and the unflinching camera stance turns the film-viewer into a sick voyeur and condones the exploitation of brutalising sexual violence as a means of entertainment (the film is classed as “entertainment”).

The claimed lack of explicit sexual images in the rape scene, emphasised by the film’s few supporters, cannot be used to downplay the fact that the “dominant effect” of the film is to sicken, seriously disturb, offend, disgust and psychologically traumatise the majority of the members of the intended audience. The Australasian distributor of the film, Accent Film Entertainment Pty Ltd, in its submission to the Chief Censor Mr Bill Hastings, praised the film as a “major work of art” with high artistic merit. It acknowledged the controversial aspects of the film, especially “an excruciating rape scene” which is conveyed “dramatically and without explicit detail” for the purpose of showing that rape is: “a horrific onslaught on humanity, painful, sick and soul destroying.”

PROMOTE believes that it is misleading and hypocritical for any serious film-maker to try and justify the excessive and shocking levels of violence inflicted on the audience by this film, in order to make these points, when all along he has publicly stated that his mission is to create a film that is banned. He pushes the boundaries so far that in its excessive and grotesque treatment of sexual crime and violence he panders to the very sick advanced psychopaths who would be ‘turned on’ by such ‘pornographie’. Reports on the criminal activities of such people are commonplace in the media. Media reports of violent anal rapes are on the increase.

The film’s potential to incite what it pretends to be denouncing should be blindingly obvious to anyone with any understanding of the psychological make-up of those with tendencies to sexual violence and those who have been convicted of such crimes. Such individuals constitute a significant number of the general public according to police statistics. Dr Meryl M. McKay, a Consultant Clinical Psychologist who viewed the film, made the following points in her submission to the OFLC, dated 18 March 2003.

The dominant theme of this film is violence, sex and rape. This film contains images of people engaging in violent behaviour in order to appease their emotional state. The film associates drugs with sex, and violence as sexually arousing. Images of violence, domination, drug use, unsafe sex and physically harmful sex are portrayed to the viewer in a way that some viewers may perceive them as normal or common place. This may result in the viewers considering the perpetrators of these behaviours to be role models.

The sound effects, artistic photography, visually changing scenes, swirling scenes, auditory arousing music that builds up to a crescendo, music that at times mimics a heart beat, takes the viewer on an emotional roller coaster. This leaves the viewer physiologically aroused while at the same time they are cognitively unable to come to a logical interpretation. In this way the film aims to emotionally arouse the viewer and perhaps emotionally bind the viewer to acts of dominance and violence.

The terminology used (e.g. Rectum Club, brown nose etc.) is designed to further take the viewer on a journey that is likely to result in them experiencing an uncomfortable psychological state (e.g. emotional turmoil).

The violent scene in the Rectum Club when the man is repeatedly smashing his victim with a fire extinguisher, while lacking in explicit gory details such as would happen in such a situation (e.g. brain matter splattering out of the victim’s skull etc) gives a clear message that such acts are sexually stimulating. This is evidenced by some of the onlookers masturbating during the violent behaviour. There was little attempt to balance this with showing the consequences for the person when they behave in an antisocial and violent manner.

During the anal rape of the woman there is a mixture of pleasure, violence and the use of drugs, the scene lasted a length of time that may result in some viewers becoming sexually aroused along with other physiological arousal associated with anxiety, fear, excitement, revulsion etc….’ [Emphasis added]

The concerns raised here by Dr McKay focus on the tendency of objectionable content matter to sexually arouse and convey the view to some that “such acts are sexually stimulating.” The film audience is forced (short of leaving the theatre) to be a voyeur, ‘condoning’ in a sense (by being a ‘participant’) the real time sexual brutality that is depicted in the “excruciating rape scene”. The issue of whether or not there is the explicit depiction of genitalia in this scene misses the point. The film “BAISE-MOI” contained these elements in a four-and-a-half minute brutal rape scene that has been widely recognised as pornographic by film critics, and yet the present members of the Film and Literature Board of Review, classified it as acceptable viewing for any person 18 years or older in any public cinema in New Zealand that chooses to screen it!

The issue is NOT nudity and/or the depiction of genitalia. These elements are found in many parts of the film. Some unrestricted documentaries contain such material and come nowhere near the matters addressed in s. 3(2) and s. 3(3) of the Act. The question to address, rather, is: Does the film IRREVERSIBLE tend to promote or

support any of those activities listed in s. 3(2) of the Act? The clear answer is yes and the activities are: (b) The use of violence or coercion to compel any person to participate in, or submit to, sexual conduct and (f)... the infliction of extreme violence or extreme cruelty.

It is not the mere depiction of these elements that deems the publication objectionable. It has to be clear to the censorship body that there is at the very least A TENDENCY to promote or support these activities. This judgement has to be made without going on to consider such matters listed in s.3(4) such as “dominant effect of the publication as a whole”, “ [artistic] merit, value …”, or “the purpose for which the publication is intended to be used”. The scheme set out under s. 3 of the Act only allows the censor to take these maters into account if the publication is NOT deemed objectionable based on s. 3(2).

The Board has on the very rare occasion ruled publications objectionable applying s. 3(2) and thereby NOT been required or authorised to take into account any matters dealt with either in s. 3(3) or s. 3(4) of the Act. Examples include the Korean film LIES, which the Board (and earlier the OFLC) found to be “objectionable” under s. 3(2)(d). In this case the Board demanded excisions to be made. It did not even consider the question of whether matters such as overall artistic merit, found in s. 3(4), counterbalanced the negative impact of the tendency to promote sexual acts involving excrement. The Board ruled the publication HOLIDAY SNAPSHOTS objectionable because it fell foul of s. 3(2)(a) of the Act. It did not assess the tendency to promote and support the exploitation of children for sexual purposes against other factors found in s. 3(4).

The film IRREVERSIBLE should be classified “objectionable” under s. 3(2)(b) and s. 3(2)(f) of the Act. The film has such a high level of gratuitous sexual violence and graphic violence etc. that it should be refused classification. If the Board somehow fails to find any evidence in the publication for any tendency towards the promotion and support of those activities listed in s. 3(2)(a) and s. 3(2)(f), then it should classify the film objectionable based on the criteria set out under s. 3(3) of the Act, taking into account the matters in s. 3(4), as required. The Classification Office’s decision identifies all the elements in which there is a “high extent” and “high degree” of depiction under s. 3(3). S. 3(3)(c) is of real concern to us: the degradation and dehumanising and demeaning of persons who are the subject of criminal activities (rape and murder). The extreme misogynistic language is deeply disturbing and offensive.

Finally, the harm to “the public good” as noted in s. 3(1) of the Act, should be of paramount concern to the Board. The harm done by this film to film goers has been documented in the BBC report on the Cannes Festival screenings in 2002, the impact of the film on viewers in Australia. People were physically sick in the Auckland screening of the film in 2003, as part of the Beck’s Incredible Film Festival. The psychological harm this film can do was highlighted by Rape Crisis groups who made submissions to the OFLC in 2003. The Chief Censor, Mr Bill Hastings, stated this year in a television documentary on TV1 dealing with the NZ Rialto screenings of the film, that after he first viewed it, prior to first classifying it, he formed the view that it had to be banned. He then went on to say in the interview that following wide consultations, he changed his mind.

CONCLUSION: PROMOTE is asking the Board to ban IRREVERSIBLE by identifying those elements in the film that deem it “objectionable”, those listed in s. 3(2) of the Act; and address the way the film can be seen to convey a tendency to promote or support these activities to the viewers to whom it is intended.


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