Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Sex from the Female Point of View ; Film and TV Are Dealing More Openly with Blush-Inducing Subjects

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Sex from the Female Point of View ; Film and TV Are Dealing More Openly with Blush-Inducing Subjects

Article excerpt

Film and TV are dealing more openly with blush-inducing subjects.

"The plague of our times," a character declares in "Hysteria," Tanya Wexler's new romantic comedy about the invention of the vibrator in Victorian England, "stems from an overactive uterus." Based loosely on real events, the film stars Hugh Dancy as Mortimer, a charming, forward-thinking doctor, and Maggie Gyllenhaal as Charlotte, a champion of women's rights.

Though its period detail and depiction of naive men trying to "cure" hysterical women through pelvic massage seems hilariously out of date, there are moments when issues of women's rights raised (lightly) in the film feel surprisingly relevant. But more than anything, "Hysteria" serves as a reminder that female sexuality is still an unusual subject on screen.

There are signs that this may be changing. "Girls" on HBO has attracted attention for its frank depiction of sex, and Lena Dunham's role as a show runner gives her rare authority to depict sexuality from a woman's perspective. It's a role that's equally rare in film: female directors accounted for 5 percent of the top- grossing domestic movies last year, a report from the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film found.

New and recent films by Ms. Wexler, Sarah Polley ("Take This Waltz"), Malgorzata Szumowska ("Elles"), Julie Delpy ("2 Days in New York") and several others challenge this norm and give audiences the chance to see how women deal with issues of female sexuality, whether it's orgasms or body image.

"I wanted to make a Merchant-Ivory movie with vibrators," Ms. Wexler, 42, said sitting in an office in Midtown Manhattan, her long brown hair bouncing every time she let out a booming laugh. "And in doing that, strangely, we've shone a light. Can you believe we're still arguing about these same topics 100 years later -- women's rights over their own body? If a woman is behind the camera, these issues can be explored more than they have in the past."

Still, "I just wanted a movie I wanted to go see," she added. "I wasn't trying to do a women's studies class."

Ms. Wexler's own experiences informed the humorous -- and chaste - - treatment scenes, in which women of different ages are "cured." For instance she recalled the situation many women find themselves in at the gynecologist's office, feet in stirrups while doctors chitchat. "You're like, 'Dude I'm sitting here,"' she said.

Working from a script by the husband-and-wife team Stephen Dyer and Jonah Lisa Dyer, Ms. Wexler spent close to seven years working to get the film made with the producer Tracey Becker, who said it was not an easy sell. "We saw the marketing potential," Ms. Becker said, "but when it came right down to it, we had this script which dealt with these very blush-inducing themes, and most of the time it was in the hands of a male executive, who had the veto power."

"Hysteria" represents something of a departure from the traditional studio film aimed at women, and Ms. Wexler, Ms. Polley and others said there was a hunger for more movies that don't just end with a kiss and marriage.

"I like a good wedding-dress movie, like all girls, if they're good," Ms. …

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