Video: Anatomy of the Sex Scene
A close read of sex scenes in ALPS and DOGTOOTH reveals the altogether unique and innovative filmmaking approach of Yorgos Lanthimos.
Note: Both films feature actress Aggeliki Papoulia, one of the most remarkably performers to emerge in the international festival scene in the last few years. Her poker-faced commitment to these surreal, sexually demanding scenarios is critical to their execution.
Warning: this video contains spoilers as well as graphic sexual content.
Sex Scene from Dogtooth: Son’s bedroom. Older Daughter is enlisted by her family to satisfy the sexual cravings of Son.
Shot #1: This is the first and only time in the movie that the Daughter wears makeup, presumably to make her look less like a sibling and more like a sex partner to her brother. It’s one of several dehumanizing elements in this scene. There’s a perfunctory quality in the body language of both characters. As she stands to undress the tight framing of the camera effectively separates her face from her body. The white rooms are awash in daylight, making this erotic moment feel sterile, as well as transparent—all the family members know this is happening.
Shot #2: This wider angle establishes more of the room. Stickers on the headboard of the boy’s bed signify his childish mentality, even though he has the body (and bodily needs) of a grown man.
Shot #3: Return to tight framing that separates heads from bodies, reinforcing the impersonal quality of this sexual encounter. The scene progresses in real time, as if to underscore that this unthinkable act of incest is actually happening. The real-time duration is also not unlike a porn film, suggesting that for the son it serves the same function as watching pornography.
Shot #4: An overhead shot of the boy’s back muscles exerting as he thrusts. The shot conveys his youthful virility, as well as a belabored quality of his sexual exertion, like a task his parents have assigned him to complete.
Shot #5: A side view of Older Daughter’s head and chest as she winces and stiffens. The mirror in the background reflects Son thrusting above her. The two images combined reinforce the disembodied quality of their act.
Shot #6: Overhead shot, post-coitus, two heads again disembodied. She has never been taught by her parents to express negative emotions. To voice her anger, she quotes from a movie she secretly watched. This moment catalyzes her awakening and rebellion against her family.
Sex Scene from Alps: Basement of store. Monte Rosa is hired to play the ex-girlfriend of a client who runs a lighting store.
Shot #1: The darkness underscores secrecy. There is confusion over whether sex is part of the agreement between the two parties. Handheld camera gives scene a spontaneous, uncertain quality, much looser than the rigid framing of Dogtooth.
The client instructs Monte Rosa, who follows his instructions.
Shot #2: Reverse angle reveals similar formal elements from the sex scene in Dogtooth. The woman’s body is cropped, emphasizing her presence as a body. But her body language, the briskness with which she disrobes, suggests a willingness to follow his instructions. The man’s orders are based on his past experience with his ex-lover.
Shot #3: Two figures framed on the couch; the man disrobes. The scene feels less formally composed than the one in Dogtooth, more like a natural moment of intimacy.
Shot #4: The shot of Monte Rosa’s head and chest resembles a similar shot of the same actress in Dogtooth. This time the man’s head is not spatially disembodied by a reflection, but physically in the same space connected to her body. There’s more of a dialogue than in the Dogtooth scene, and it gives their interaction a greater sense of intimacy and warmth.
She laughs. Is it at the disconnect between the sentiment of the line she is speaking with the awkwardness of the situation? At the absurdity of being instructed to express a genuine feeling?
Shot #5: Or is it from a real sensation of pleasure?
In both scenes, the woman has internalized words from outside and is using them to express herself.
Kevin B. Lee is Editor in Chief of IndieWire’s PressPlay Video Blog, Video Essayist for Fandor’s Keyframe, and a contributor to Roger Ebert.com. Follow him on Twitter.