“I blame capitalism”- Mette Carla Albrechtsen
And now that I have the attention of both males and females, let’s talk about sexuality. We are trying to retrieve ourselves, our identities, while we are bombarded by brand new information daily- if not hourly. The number of genders is out of hand, and so are the technological means destroying intimacy. As we grow apart from each other, we learned to take a few things for granted, i.e.: men have always wanted more sex than women, we are 100% aware of our sexuality, having sex with somebody means that the female must perform oral on the male. Did we have enough time, though, to digest our sexual liberation, dating back in mid-20th century? Or did we just agree that women are now liberated, we can have premarital sex and simply moved on?
Yes, we took all that for granted. We briefly mentioned that females can have a sex life and moved on. That is the flaw Mette Carla Albrechtsen and Lea Glob found in modern sexual history and decided to explore in their documentary Venus. Why have we taken female sexuality for granted, when we don’t really know scratch about it?
Mette: I was in film school and I had an assignment that was kind of in the area. I met Lea who was my photographer. That set the ground of the many years of this collaboration. We weren’t quite sure of what we were looking for. We were kind of afraid to admit what we wanted to do. After a while we asked what would happen if we made a film that was dedicated to this subject [female sexuality]. So, we said “ok let’s do this, let’s make a film about the female sexuality.” We had no idea how to do it, but we had this agreement that once Lea was done with film school, we would give it a shot. We won a competition for Scandinavian film schools- which was a big chunk of money- by pitching in this idea. We had to actually do it then! It was quite an interesting way of working, because we ended up having 3-4 months of complete artistic freedom so that was kind of the deal with the film institute: we would explore ourselves just to figure out how to approach the subject. During the summer, we wrote each other a letter every day, where we reflected and told each other stories of our entire erotic capital, what is the first thing we remember, different episodes, whatever just came into mind, and we documented it in old ‘analogue’ letters. We also started taking pictures of ourselves because we were available and we figured it was quite liberating. After a while, you don’t notice yourself and your vanity. We just opened our senses, so, everywhere we went we were in tune with this subject. We fell in love with Copenhagen and all the people we met. Once we had 2000 still photos, letters, videos, we said “ok this is us, what would happen if we take these letters and method and technique and give it to other women?”. We found some women, did some tests, passed on this method, we documented what they had to say and they found it liberating too. That’s where it started. We invented some methods that we used in the film and we are still using. We created this “creating a framework” to free the participants, to liberate them. This was a creators’ project, they didn’t have to feel guilt or shame in participating, so we took upon these feelings, this responsibility. We learnt a lot about how modesty and shame work. We were kind of inspired by these ‘couch castings’ and we knew we had to use it in the film. People participating should be ok with the open casting. Luckily, over 100 women signed up.
Sitting on a chair, talking about your sex life to two complete strangers does not sound appealing. Yet it seemed like they shyness was taken away fast. The girls that were brave enough to contribute to the project open themselves up and talk. It is truly touching to watch, as you get the feeling of participating in the building of a new friendship
Lea: We were hoping that they would feel like they were invited by friends to talk about it. We wanted to create a movie they could see with their boyfriend, with their brother, with their father. In Scandinavia, we think we are so sexually liberated, but when it comes to our emotional life to actually speak about what it is… We all want to be satisfied and happy in life. How do you raise those issues and try to be more honest? It’s a good way to start a conversation. A bit truer about what is inside people whenever you sort of have an image you are trying to mimic but you suppress your own feelings.
M.: We decided to shoot it in my apartment, my bedroom. We felt it was important to give the girls this warm, intimate feeling “I am inviting you, it’s my home, you know that I am real, we are two directors” it was a validation.
People were coming in groups and they were sitting in the kitchen and we encouraged them to talk about this stuff. We took one by one to the interview room. They didn’t know what was going to happen, only that they had to play along. It was difficult to open up. There were two cameras and us.
The two creators made a clean, all-white background, as they wanted the picture to be clear and focused on the girls. They achieved their goal: while watching Venus, the only thing you can concentrate on is what those women talk about. They are all beautiful, but you can see past that. You cannot NOT listen to their stories and be moved by them. Which is probably why Lea and Mette ended up with a different piece than what they had started planning. The open casting was supposed to be the first step, but the two women realized they had such wonderful material to work with. Aside from having listened to beautiful stories, they witnessed women coming to realizations, but also confronted themselves, when the cameras were off.
L.: I think in the beginning we aimed subconsciously to have a conversation and became clearer during the editing. We wanted to have an intimate conversation. When we spoke to them, a lot of their stories reflected our own sadness- which is also what the aging takes away. But a lot of the questions they asked themselves were pretty profound. It hit us: “I am ten years older than you and I haven’t thought about it, I haven’t asked these questions.” So, it was very emotional and confronting to watch yourself thinking:“ok, you are so much younger but you are somewhere I haven’t been gone yet.” It was interesting. It takes a conversation that is intimate but it is also difficult to have with your closest friends. It’s a bit awkward to talk about it with someone that you know very well.
M.: There was a lot of pressure sitting on that chair. In our preparation, we thought of it as a slow seduction. The original idea was to hold this casting as a research for a film where we would sort of reinterpret and reenact sex scenes based on real women’s fantasies and stories. We were looking for which of these women would play along. They were taken into an emotional journey. Some of them told us they had never said some of these things out loud before. They realized stuff as they were sitting on the chair. You have to hold up in the room and take care of the girls at the same time, because there is a lot of energy. Because they felt that they were contributing in something bigger than them and because of the exchange of energy and experiences it became very significant, also for us. After a night of shooting we were completely destroyed. We had this feeling of catharsis because we felt like we were washing ourselves from taking so many stories and some of them were beautiful, some were horrible. When we saw the material we had, we decided that this was going to be the film: these honest and emotional monologues, no material that was staged.
What one cannot ignore are the insecurities shared by those women. There was hardly one that was confident in her own skin, a phenomenon that seems to be universal.
M.: You have so many choices; there is some ideal of beauty. I don’t think that has to do anything with pornography. I think it’s been like that forever. The male will always idealize beautiful women. I think now there are so many options. We have to be kind of in control. It takes so little to fall off that kind of ideal. You have so many options, you can change your nose, your hair. Women are very hard on themselves. when it comes to the pictures we have in mind, we aren’t sure if they are our own or if they are reproduction of a culture created by men, mainly. There’s no real way of describing the pleasurable part of life. While we were growing up we were getting “don’t get pregnant, don’t get diseases.” There was a fear around relationships. How do women talk about it, and what do they see? What is true? Can we reclaim our own sexuality? What would it be like if it weren’t contaminated? How would we experience it? I would blame capitalism for the insecurities created in women’s minds.
L.: I have been insecure and I grew up without pornography to a lighter extend. I can’t even imagine with all this imagery, growing up like this, constant pornography… The dramaturgy of intercourse in porn is now defined by meta tucking numbers. You produce a video and put it in all categories just to get hits. It is all defined by money. We produce this as how sex is supposed to be. We really need to reclaim some culture.
M.: And also, reclaim your right in having sex the way you like it.
So, is intimacy a game long lost?
M.: The real sad part is that, if there was a quality kind of education, someone would talk to the ten year olds and teach them what is intercourse, what does it mean to have sex, it all comes down to this suppressed part. When we grew up, sex-ed was more like “so, you get your period, put on a pad. Don’t get pregnant. Don’t get diseases.” There is nothing about how to do it and what to expect.
There was this survey in Australia proving that kids were exchanging sexual activities for intimacy. 12 y/o boys were asking for blow jobs by girls in exchange of a kiss. They negotiated intimacy with sexual stuff. Girls’ brains are becoming programmed to accept this sort of intimacy.
L.: This disconnection, this gap of the male thinking of sex as something different than what the female does, has always been there. From a personal perspective, the male sex drive was always connected to my self- loath. If he doesn’t want as much sex as I do, there must be something wrong with me. My boyfriend has told me that he was raised to protect the fragile female, while I only once had a boyfriend with a bigger sex drive than me. Those misunderstandings are so stupid. We spend so much time on stupid things like that.
Before we finish our conversation, I ask them what were the stories that made an impact on them.
L.: The Tamara story, with the girl who was so in love with her boyfriend, touched me. There is something destructive in sexuality. It can be tempting to completely dive into something deeply. Some of those experiences are crazy sexual experiences, and that story mirrored that. “I know it is bad for me but I want it anyway.”
M.: It is easy to judge her but I think a lot of people have done something very similar. I thought she was very brave admitting it.
There were many moments that were quite unique. There was this one interview with a girl that left me sad afterwards. During the interview, she had reached a revelation about herself, she had experienced so much and I hadn’t at the time I was her age. I felt this extreme sorrow of not being able to live my life to the fullest. It felt so confronting and it came like a shock. “I am 30 and she is 20 and I am nowhere near where she is.”
L.: Sex is power. If you meet someone who is sexually really good, that person can easily win some power over you. I spent my twenties being frustrated and looking back now I realize what it was about.
Sexuality is a tricky matter. It may get you obsessed, sad, mad, happy, powerless… It seems like we have a long way to go still into understanding one of our most vital traits. I really hope that Venus will make the subject of female sexuality approachable to men, as it is definitely something we need to finally sort out.