Derek Cianfrance: The NC-17 Rating of ‘Blue Valentine’ Is Offensive

Cianfrance invites a discussion: ‘By changing the film, you cut into the heart and soul of what the film is. Every once in a while in your life you have an opportunity to stand for something’

Last Updated: December 4, 2010 @ 10:55 AM
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The decision around the appeal of the NC-17 rating for “Blue Valentine” will be announced by the MPAA on Wednesday, Dec. 8.  Writer-director Derek Cianfrance addressed the ratings question in a discussion with Wrap editor Sharon Waxman at a screening of "Blue Valentine" on Thursday. TheWrap invites comments and an interactive discussion around this issue over the next several days. (Photo of Cianfrance by Jonathan Alcorn)

SW: Let’s talk about this rating. I was surprised to learn the film got an NC-17 rating. I really couldn’t remember the scene that got an NC-17. When I look back on the film I’m left with the emotions in the film, I'm not really left with the sex scenes. So to clarify, it’s the scene where they’re in her bedroom.

DC: The cunnilingus….

This is not cut?

This is our version. Our film. I was shocked, honestly, because we tried to make a very respectful movie. It doesn’t gawk at our naked actors. It doesn’t really show much – there’s no skin, there’s a leg. I was always inspired to respect the audience and to let them use their imagination. There’s a great scene in ‘The Third Man’ where Joseph Cotton walks in the room filled with all the babies given the bad penicillin. Carol Reed never shows the babies, he shows Joseph Cotton’s face. It’s much worse, because he’s a great actor, and it’s terrible. It’s what we did in ‘Blue Valentine.’ It’s all about the power of these performances. They’re doing great acting.

It didn’t occur to you that you might get an NC-17?

No. It was never our intention to make a movie that would offend people. It was a movie that would try to respect people. What you’re left with at end of this movie is emotions. Ultimately, I take it as a compliment that the feeling gave this movie an NC-17. That the feelings were too intense. Not what the MPAA saw but what they felt.

Not to be indelicate, but what would you have to take out? You’d just have to spend less time down there?

Well, what would you take out? She’s having an orgasm, and it’s a 45-second shot. It starts at the beginning and goes through the orgasm. And that’s a dialogue scene. That’s a relationship. That’s how people get to know each other; sex is a dialogue between people. It becomes a bone of contention (later) in “Blue Valentine.” Their relationship is described through sex.

Often the MPAA will tell you that you can have two thrusts and not four or five. They may say shave five frames and we’ll be fine.

That’s where it gets offensive to me. The assumption when you get an NC-17 rating is that you’ll change the movie to get an R. To me, that’s censorship. And I respect what the actors are doing in this movie too much to change that. It’s as if to say, ‘Ryan, Michelle, you’re good in this movie, but you’re a little too good.’

And I feel it’s also insulting to an audience. To get an NC-17 will limit the number of theaters that will show this film. So the pressure is to change the film. But by changing the film, you cut into the heart and soul of what the film is. Every once in a while in your life you have an opportunity to stand for something. We feel proud to be on the forefront and standing for our rights as artists. Hopefully they’ll change the rating to an R. And if they don’t, we’ll release the movie as it is. It will be harder for people to see it, but hopefully they’ll make the effort.

So you’re prepared and Weinstein is prepared to release it as is?

How could we do that to the audience after we’ve gotten so much support from the media, and the industry and the fans for the film? For me, if anyone was to cut their film after a fight, it means they’re caving in – they’re changing the movie.

I just feel that with this movie – it’s the essence. What am I going to change? There’s nothing to change. You’d have to remove the scene. And you can’t. We’ve never discussed the possibility of taking it out. If it is an NC-17, there’s always a chance for a paradigm shift in the industry. Time will show – in 10, 20 years.

The problem with the ratings is they’re so unpredictable. It’s so hard to get your arms around what \exactly an R, or NC-17 rating is. It’s subjective, really, no matter how many guidelines there are.

It is, and that’s what frustrating about it. My kids see more harmful things during commercials at football games than they would see in this film.

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