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BEDWAYS
DVD region 0. Crabtree Films.

BedwaysPorn or art? That’s been the debate surrounding the trickle of films over the last decade or so that have featured explicit, real sex within their storylines. It’s especially relevant in the UK, given that our censors make a very clear distinction between ‘sex works’ (which can only feature hardcore imagery within the R18 rating) and ‘non-sex works’, where the rules are relaxed enough to allow similar imagery (and sometimes material than would be banned outright at R18) within the rather more mainstream 18 rating. It’s a nonsense of course – given that films that are openly ‘erotic’ - be they Destricted, Caligula, a number of gay movies and even 1970’s sexy film Justine’s Hot Nights – have all passed this entirely subjective rule.

RP Kahl’s Bedways is not only the latest film to be subjected to this judgement, but also confronts to issue head on, as the lead characters debate the issues surrounding the use of real sex in a non-porn film. Would-be filmmaker Miriam Mayet hires two friends (Matthias Faust and Lana Cooper) to make a film about sexuality and relationships. Within the walls of a run down Berlin apartment, the three get together for a series of rehearsals, trying to work out how to make this film and how their real-life relationships bleed into the fiction.

As the film progresses, this bleeding of fiction and reality becomes even more confusing, as the viewer rarely knows if the scenes played out are supposed to be the film-within-a-film, or ‘reality’ – references and attitudes spill from one to the other and the whole thing eventually becomes a fully interwoven narrative, before finally splitting the two off again and revealing the real relationships.

BedwaysInterspersed with chaptering title cards and with its mix of sexuality and grim-faced drama, the film seems to be clearly influenced by the likes of Godard and the French New Wave – no bad thing – and the Berlin of this film seems just as grey and run down as that seen thirty years earlier in Possession. At just 70 minutes long, the film moves at a decent pace, given the nature of the story, and the performances are pretty solid.

All that said, there is the nagging suspicion that this is less a critique of artistically pretentious hipsters as it is the work of one of them (the needless crowbarring in of a laughably, desperately cool gig with some annoying band reinforces that suspicion), and the story – what there is of it – more or less fizzles out (one leading character is simply ignored for the final scenes). For all the bluster, the film ultimately feels that it’s about nothing.

As for the sex scenes – there are a couple of explicit moments, mostly deliberately unerotic. However, a scene with Mayet in a sex club, slowly becoming turned on and masturbating, actually packs a surprisingly erotic punch.

But although this film is all about sex, that’s not what ultimately drives the narrative. Rather, this is an interesting, though flawed, study of filmmaking, relationships and manipulation, one that will probably split audiences, depending on their taste for old-school Euro arthouse. And while this particular Bedways might not exactly be bestways, I'd say it's still worth a look.

DAVID FLINT

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