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All the sex films are in Toronto


Toronto's economy suffered a blow this week with the first half of the Toronto Film festival. Sales of pay-per-view porn declined dramatically in hotel rooms as visiting press and industry delegates were treated gratis to a never-ending flow of explicit sex on the festival screens.

Okay, just kidding, but there was quite a lot of it. Lukas Moodysson's much-anticipated A Hole in My Heart has a great premise: a teenager is tormented by the porn film his father is making just outside his room in their tiny apartment. But once the situation has been laid out as squalid and depressing (right away, graphically and brutally), and the hatred and anguish of the principals involved has been established (ditto), there is nowhere else to go. Moodysson spins his wheels for a grueling 98 minutes, driving his points home on an escalating scale of shock and chopping up the videoed chaos with gimmicks ranging from the interesting to the tired.

Isabella Huppert stars in Ma mère as a mother who leads her son, via a chosen girl or two, down the path of sexual kinks. That path, of course, ultimately leads to herself, and to their doom. It's a testament to the film that the incest --- hardly new to the world of film, much less French film --- is so disturbing and transgressive when it comes.

The various characters' addiction to extremity is explored in a far less stagnant way than in A Hole in My Heart. In that film, the problem is societal, and the roots of the characters' addiction to extremity read like case-study backgrounds. In Ma mère, the reasons depend on the person, are emotional and philosophical, and tend to evolve. The film is not perfect, but a great ending redeems the few flaws.

Michael Winterbottom decided to make a fiction film with graphic, non-faked sex, but forgot to do anything else with it. 9 Songs is instead content to chart the course of the dissolution of a relationship, apparently for the sake of those who have never lived it for themselves. What is it with films like this and We Don't Live Here Anymore?From now on, let's have a story as well, OK?

The sex is broken up with either clichés and inane profundities or drab, useless footage of British guitar bands performing live. Had the titular songs been laid over the sex and minor arguments they might have had some resonance, as though these were the songs that defined these points in their lives. But no, five minutes of unsexy sex, five minutes of the Super Furry Animals. Even at just over an hour, the film is a chore.

I didn't catch the fourth film with lots of graphic sex, but I did catch Neve Campbell naked and using a detachable showerhead in the non-recommended fashion in James Toback's When Will I Be Loved?Toback has concocted a male fantasy of a story, added a pointless mix of low-level celebrities appearing as themselves, and directed everybody as though they were not so much real people as mouthpieces for his latest notions about what makes us tick.

Fred Weller is just okay as the boyfriend who sets Campbell's character up with an old media mogul for a fat chunk of change, but he does own the film's one brief shining moment, a hustler's monologue which recalls another Toback film. It is, however, at that moment that we realize he is otherwise no Robert Downey, Jr., and this is no Two Girls and a Guy. The whole thing is as thin and facile as the art Campbell's character dallies with when not exploring her sexuality.

Human Touch, the latest film from Paul Cox, shares a similar storyline and affinity for bad art --- lots of it. Bad art is everywhere you look in this film, as is sex (or as the film likes to call it, "human touch"). A woman who no longer wants to have sex with her husband starts posing for an older man, and when he makes a donation to her favorite worthy cause, she allows even more (sort of a crunchy granola Indecent Proposal).

Precious in its conceits and infatuated with its own mumbo-jumbo, Human Touch shows not quite enough of a deft touch considering the audience I saw it with thought it was supposed to be funny that the husband slips something in the wife's tea so that he can rape her while she sleeps. Or maybe it was supposed to be funny, and the film is worse than I thought.

Strangely, the hottest sex so far contains no nudity and occurs between Laura Linney and Topher Grace, which is not something I even thought I would want to see. P.S. is the story of a college admissions administrator who receives an application from a young man with the same name as her one true love from high school, a boy who died at the time and whom she has never quite gotten over. Oh yeah, and he also looks just like him, talks like him, and paints like him.

The film charmingly treats the freakiness of this as not quite worth freaking out about, but doesn't give it short shrift, either. A fantastic performance from Linney and a good handful of comic moments do battle with the film's cheesy chick-flick tendencies, but the whole thing comes out decently enough.

That's enough sex for you --- next week, the violence.