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French minors will soon be able to watch real sex scenes in cinemas

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Culture ministry aims to relax a ratings system that has come under criticism from filmmakers

Banzai Hiroaki / Flickr

Minors in France will no longer be automatically prohibited from watching movies with non-simulated sex scenes, under new regulations that are set to be announced next month. As French television station BFM TV reports, the forthcoming changes will relax a film ratings system that has repeatedly come under criticism from filmmakers and conservative groups alike.

Under a law passed in 2003, people under the age of 18 are automatically barred from seeing films “with non-simulated sex scenes and extreme violence” in French cinemas. A report last year from France’s film classification board criticized the law, arguing that the line between real and simulated sex scenes has blurred in recent years. “A scene can be quite explicit on the screen while being simulated during the shooting,” the report reads. Filmmakers have also criticized the law on economic grounds, because an under-18 rating — equivalent to an “NC-17” rating in the US — can keep movies out of major French theater chains.

The new law, set to be announced by the beginning of February, eliminates the automatic ban in favor of a more nuanced approach. "The ban on children below the age of 18 will no longer be automatically applied to works containing scenes of non-simulated sex, but reserved for works involving scenes of sex or violence likely to seriously hurt the sensitivity of minors," the culture ministry tells BFM TV.

Controversy over the rating system erupted last year, after Love, an erotic 3D film from Gaspar Noé, was classified with an under-16 rating — the equivalent of an “R” rating in the US. A far-right association called Promouvoir later contested the rating, forcing the classification board to rate it under-18. Promouvoir, which claims to promote “Judeo-Christian and family values,” has also successfully lobbied for more restrictive ratings on Saw 3D and Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac: Volume 2.

French film directors have expressed concern over Promouvoir’s influence over the ratings system in the past, pointing to it as evidence of creeping conservatism.