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Paul Verhoeven scandalized by the prudishness of Dying can wait, the last James Bond


“Sex is the essence of existence!”, exclaimed the Dutch filmmaker, devastated by the extinction of eroticism in Hollywood. But also in the famous 007 franchise.

Sensuality is less eternal than diamonds. After several release attempts postponed by a global pandemic that many spy films would not have challenged, the latest installment of the James Bond saga, Dying can wait , appeared in theaters this fall. Frantic chases in the city of Matera in Italy, roaring racing cars and other infamous plots hatched from a secret base, foiled between two witticisms… The formula for a James Bond film, honed over more than half a century of cinema, responds present. With one exception. Her Majesty’s Spy no longer plays petticoats. An absolute aberration, for director Paul Verhoeven.

“There has always been sex in Bond! You couldn’t see any breasts or anything, but there was sex!”mockingly indignant the filmmaker on Dutch television, reports the latest edition of Sunday Times . The director of Flesh and Blood, Robocop , Basic Instinct or, more recently, Benedetta may indeed have come out disappointed, in more ways than one, with Death can wait. Not the slightest rascal gutted, nor an ounce of eroticism emanating from it. Of course, Bond, played for the fifth and last time by Daniel Craig, has settled down. It flows, at the beginning of the story, happy days in Italy, alongside the Frenchwoman Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux). No more suggestive silhouettes of the credits, no more torrid passages: the cinematographic extinction of sensuality stretches to the final point of the film.

Ursula Andress and Sean Connery in James Bond 007 versus Dr Noin 1962. Avalon/ABACA

There are still a few shutters, James Bond resisted the ambient prudishness. Paul Verhoeven thus keeps a good memory of the Royal Casino of 2006. The staggering grace of Eva Green and the raw violence of the men (including Mads Mikkelsen) wavered without modesty or voyeurism, between notes of charm and cruelty. But for the director, barbarism and voluptuousness play a common game: they are true. “We should come back to realityhe says when asked what he would do with James Bond. Fewer automobile antics and more old-fashioned trifles, one must believe. “Sex is the essence of existence!, he exclaims. Before adding further: “Cars don’t leap into the sky”.

“We are afraid of sex!”

True to his filmography, Paul Verhoeven obviously cannot content himself with simple artifices or junk shows served up by the blockbusters of the moment. “It’s all just a festival of explosions and crasheshe laments, sharing an observation that other filmmakers, and not the least important, such as Martin Scorsese or Francis Ford Coppola are sorry for. These films are sometimes funny, but they don’t tell you anything about today’s world. I no longer see the slightest reflection in Marvel or Bond..

Pierce Brosnan and Sophie Marceau in the 19and james bond movie, The world is not enoughin 1999. United International Pictures

According to the Dutch director, the heart of the problem is obvious. “We are afraid of sex!he says. Sexuality has been completely erased from cinema. Today we could no longer make films as they were made in the 1970s. Even films like Showgirls Where Basic Instinct would be very complicated to do these days. Whose fault is it ? Paul Verhoeven spares the #MeToo movement, which he considers less responsible for this disappearance than religion. “There is a new puritanism”he regrets, pointing to the influence ofevangelical thought decades, that sexuality should be family oriented“. And, therefore, to a relative abstinence.

Paul Verhoeven’s latest films testify to this radical reluctance of American producers. Shea subversive thriller embroidered around a story of rape, and Benedettahistorical account – or “libidinous turnip” — about a 17th-century lesbian nun, were produced outside the United States. Sex, says the filmmaker, would have more or less become taboo in Hollywood. Difficult indeed to find a superhero or a superheroine passing by the gaudriole box, between two fights. The unthought replaces the off-screen. This applies to other blockbusters, where a veil of modesty is similarly infused – when it’s not thick curtains.

However, Paul Verhoeven’s next film, Young Sinner, will reconnect with America. The director had not filmed there for more than twenty years. The film, a political thriller, is expected for 2023. What about the hated stunner, its trademark? “Of course there will be some sex”slips the filmmaker, almost like an excuse, in an interview granted in December to the American magazine MovieMaker. The heroine of this feature film, will work for the counter of an influential American senator. Political frescoes are decidedly better suited to licentious pugnacity than blockbuster films.

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