The Sundance hit “Passages” received an NC-17 rating from the Motion Picture Association, which writer-director Ira Sachs called a form of “cultural censorship” in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. Distributor MUBI confirmed to IndieWire that it will release the film unrated in theaters in New York and Los Angeles on August 4 as scheduled, with a wider release to follow.
The Times first reported that “Passages” has earned the rare MPA rating, which could limit the number of theaters in which “Passages” can play.
The film follows queer director Tomas (Franz Rogowski), who begins a romance with a young teacher, Agathe (Adèle Exarchopoulos) outside of her marriage to Martin (Ben Whishaw). The film has numerous sex scenes, including a frankly extended sequence involving Tomas and Martin shot in one take.
Sachs said he never considered editing the film to get an R rating and that the decision to reject the NC-17 was unanimous with MUBI.
“That’s how the 1950s is that it still exists,” Sachs said of the assessment that says no one under the age of 17 may be admitted to the screening, even with a parent or guardian.
Sachs continued: “We are talking about an (evaluation) committee that is not visible, that does not disclose its rules, that exists in silence. We’re talking about a select group of people who have a certain bent, which seems anti-gay, anti-progress, anti-sex — a lot of things that I’m not.
He added: “We hunger for films that are in any way close to our experience, and to find a film like this, which is then left out, is, to me, depressing and reactionary. It’s really a form of cultural censorship that is quite dangerous, particularly in a culture that is already fighting, in such extreme ways, the possibility that LGBT imagery could exist.”
A spokesperson for the Motion Picture Association assured that the NC-17 rating was not due to the sexual orientation of the characters.
“The MPA’s Classification and Rating Administration rates films based on their content: what happens on the screen and how it is portrayed,” the Times statement read. “The sexual orientation of one or more characters is not considered part of the judging process.”
In a joint statement shared with IndieWire, representatives from MUBI and the film said, “We have unexpectedly received an NC-17 rating, which may limit the film’s ability to screen in some theaters nationwide. We are deeply disappointed with the MPA’s decision and MUBI has officially rejected this NC-17 rating. MUBI remains committed to domestically releasing ‘Passages’ in its original version as intended by the director, with our full support, unrated and uncut.
Al Times, MUBI also said: “Candid and thoughtful representations of sex are essential to cinematic storytelling and in the service of representation more broadly. An NC-17 rating suggests that the depiction of sex in film is explicit or gratuitous, which it is not, and that mainstream audiences will be offended by this portrayal, which we also believe is false.”
Sachs added: “I needed to be reminded that the body was not banned in cinema. I’m so glad that scene was as strong and powerful as it sounds because that was my intention, which is to have a moment in the film where we don’t hide from the impact of sex on our lives and what it means to us as individuals.” Sachs said. “There’s no way to disentangle the film from what it is. It’s a very open film about the place of sexual experience in our lives. And to change that now would be to create a very different film.