Sook-Yin Lee in Shortbus

7 horny arthouse movies to watch this Valentine’s Day

Time to get highbrow *and* get your rocks off!

by Douglas Greenwood
|
10 February 2021, 10:29am

Sook-Yin Lee in Shortbus

Imagine this time last year, when Coronavirus wasn’t a pandemic but a mere “virus with pandemic potential”, and you were swiping endlessly through Tinder, hellbent on getting a shag by the time 14 February came around. Valentine’s Day 2020: when consensually touching strangers was encouraged and not putting you at risk of acquiring a £200 fine and a respiratory virus.

Fast forward 365 days and here we are: contemplating whether we have ever been this sexually ravenous in our lives and, if you’re single, with absolutely nobody to hook up with. Times are hard, girlies -- but if you’re tempted to send that bin fire boy a late night text, do not fucking do it! There are several horny movies out there that are both highbrow and erotic.

This Valentine’s Day, do the right thing: stay indoors and stream one of these arthouse classiques instead.


Shortbus

A sexual banquet acts as the centrepiece of Shortbus, John Cameron Mitchell’s wild foray into the world of desire that, upon release in 2006, left every critic and arthouse moviegoer shook. In it, a couples therapist who hasn’t been able to climax meets a gay couple looking to open up their relationship and engage in a threesome. Together, they attend a mixer event in a New York City basement salon that doubles up as a hotbed of fornication, as folks of all genders and sexual preferences converge. The circle is now open; within these four walls, anything could happen. The additional actors in this film’s orgy sequences were dubbed “sextras”, and during the shooting of its orgy scenes, all of the crew were stripped naked. For those who don’t fear nudity, Shortbus is the arthouse Valentine’s movie for you. 


Belle de Jour

In Luis Buñuel's 1967 film Belle de Jour, Catherine Deneuve plays Séverine, a sexually repressed housewife, who dreams of sadomasochistic adventures away from the husband she no longer finds attractive. Then, a chance encounter with a new friend introduces her to a new world. From then on, between the hours of two and five o'clock, while her husband is at work, she becomes a sex worker in a high-end brothel, catering to anonymous clients and fulfilling her own desires too. Need another reason to seek out this salacious film? Most of Séverine's wardrobe is designed by Yves Saint Laurent


Nymphomaniac

Lars Von Trier is today's modern arthouse provocateur. His movies are made to be unsettling, dangerous, thought-provoking and often macabre to a fault (see his 2018 controversy stirrer The House That Jack Built). Nymphomaniac, his 2013 two-part odyssey into the life of Joe, a hypersexual woman played by Stacy Martin and later Charlotte Gainsbourg, captures all of those elements. The film follows Joe unpacking her sexual past to a bachelor over several hours in minute detail. Infamously, Lars von Trier digitally added porn actors' genitals onto its famous actors' bodies to capture what seemed like unsimulated sex. A warning: the film is more traumatic than horny per se, but for those looking to spend four-plus hours looking at erect penises and calling it art, this is the film for you. 


In the Realm of the Senses

Based on the story of geisha-slash-sex worker Sada Abe, who killed her client and then carried his genitals about in her kimono, In the Realm of the Senses is a French-Japanese art film that was deemed dangerous and revolutionary upon its release in 1976. A sort of love story, the film follows a hotel maid as she falls for her manager and engages in a series of sexual fantasies that veer into BDSM territory. You already know how this subversive, love revenge story ends -- but that doesn’t make the journey to that point any less jaw-dropping. Not for the faint of heart.

Fuses

Carolee Schneeman subverted the male-dominated avant-garde film industry with Fuses, a technicolour short art film that captures her having sex with her then-partner, James Tenney behind hazy and trippy coloured layers. Spliced with shots of nature and her pet cat, the 16mm movie, which is silent, was admired by Stanley Kubrick and makes the most magnificent art from a subject matter most dismiss as mere smut. A 20-minute trip worth taking.

Love

Would any horny arthouse movie list be complete without Gaspar Noe’s shocking 3D shagfest, Love? Opening with a long, unsimulated hand-job, which just about sets the scene for the remaining 130 minutes, Love follows a fractured relationship between three parties, spattered with explicit unsimulated sex between its actors. What else is there to say about it? Not much — the film’s script was allegedly seven pages long. All we do know is that the film spurred a TikTok trend after it hit Netflix last year. Good luck!

The Fourth Man

Paul Verhoeven rounds out the trilogy of old arthouse dudes who know how to antagonise their audience with dangerous, horny movies. The Dutch artist — who over the years has made Oscar-nominated rape revenge thrillers with Isabelle Huppert (Elle) and widely-panned 1990s dramas about strip club employees (Showgirls) -- made his most violent and sexually-charged thriller in The Fourth Man. Released in 1983, it follows a bisexual writer who, after delivering a lecture at a university in a town nearby, becomes infatuated by a mysterious new female lover in the crowd. They have sex, but the writer subsequently experiences a series of horrifying, carnal visions that may frame the woman as more murderous than she once seemed. Paul V’s next movie? A 17th century lesbian nun drama due later this year. Expect that to appear on the 2022 version of this list.


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