The Case for Consent: Bertolucci, Verhoeven, and Verisimilitude vs Respect

By  · Published on December 7th, 2016

A powerful new video delves into the week’s most controversial story.

In the wake of the heinous allegations about the rape scene in Bernardo Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris, allegations made (then somewhat retracted) by Bertolucci himself, the issue of consent when it comes to nude and/or sexual scenes in films has been at the front of everyone’s mind this week. Essayist Ivana Brehas is doing more than just thinking about it, though, as evidenced by her latest video essay called “Consent in Cinema,” in which she analyses two of the most infamously questionable-consent scenes in Hollywood history ‐ the scene from Last Tango in Paris, and the “leg-crossing” scene in Paul Verhoeven’s Basic Instinct.

In the former instance (just in case you haven’t seen the news), Bertolucci himself said that he and Marlon Brando, who starred in the film, purposely did not tell Brando’s co-star Maria Schneider just how explicit and sexually violent a certain scene was going to be, hoping to elicit “her reaction as a girl, not as an actress.” Schneider was 19 at the time, Brando 48, and the actress was very vocal in later years ‐ before Bertolucci’s comments ‐ about how much the experience had scarred her. She actually said she felt “a little raped,” and as a result she never shot another nude or sexual scene for the rest of her career.

In the latter instance, in which Sharon Stone’s character, being interrogated by police, uncrosses then crosses her legs, revealing her bare genitals, the actress also wasn’t given all the details. The story goes that Verhoeven had her remove her underwear because it was “distracting,” and when he showed her a rough cut of the scene, it was on a screen so small and with such little resolution that she couldn’t really see what the camera had captured. It wasn’t until she was at the premiere in a packed theater in front of a screen two stories tall that she realized what Verhoeven had been going for.


In both cases, the directors were ‐ by their own accounts ‐ attempting to get natural reactions from their actresses, to make these intense moments more intense for their verisimilitude. However, the methods by which they sought to achieve this verisimilitude were reprehensible and possibly criminal.

Brehas ‐ whose eloquent and erudite essays we have featured before, see the above link ‐ covers both these scenes and their real-world implications in disturbing detail, as well as other incidents featuring actors, directors, producers, their sexual improprieties and the consequences (or lack thereof); the result is a bold and impassioned call to arms against assault in the name of “art,” and the most necessary video of the week, the month, and maybe the year.

If you were ever going to share a video with your social media followers, this is the one.

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