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Fox Searchlight to release NC-17 film

Bertolucci relieved that ‘Dreamers’ won't be cut

Bernardo Bertolucci will not have to cut his new erotic drama “The Dreamers” to get it distributed in the United States.

Fox Searchlight Pictures said Tuesday it will release the director’s original version with an NC-17 designation instead of demanding an R-rated version.

There hasn’t been an NC-17 film in U.S. theatrical release since 1997 — when “Bent,” a drama about Nazi persecution of homosexuals, and the porn comedy “Orgazmo” came out. The makers of some sexually explicit dramas — such as 2001’s “The Center of the World” — choose to go into distribution with no rating at all rather than accept the NC-17 mark.

Bertolucci has publicly worried about the film’s fate in America. “The film risks coming out in the United States amputated and mutilated,” the Italian director said last fall. “Perhaps someone thinks that the U.S. public is too immature to see this.”

But Fox Searchlight decided against any cuts.

“I’m relieved — in so many ways — that the distributor has had the vision to release my original film,” Bertolucci said Tuesday. “After all, an orgasm is better than a bomb.”

“The Dreamers” tells the story, set in 1968, of a young American student (Michael Pitt) who moves in with a Parisian brother and sister (Louis Garrel and Eva Green) whose wild lifestyle changes him. The movie includes full frontal male nudity.

“‘The Dreamers’ provocatively explores human sexuality in a frank way,” said Fox Searchlight Pictures President Peter Rice, who compared the film to the Dustin Hoffman-Jon Voight drama “Midnight Cowboy” and Bertolucci’s own “Last Tango in Paris.”

“Like ‘The Dreamers,’ those masterpieces would not have been improved by cutting them to an R rating,” Rice said.

The specialty division of 20th Century Fox studios found itself in a difficult position after acquiring the film, which screened at the 2003 Venice Film Festival and London Film Festival.

Most NC-17 rated films have difficulty finding theaters and securing advertising in the United States. Many mainstream cinemas and media companies equate the NC-17 rating to pornography — even though it was created to differentiate adult-only dramatic filmmaking from skin flicks.

But cutting the movie’s content to get an R rating would likely enrage cinephiles who would be the target audience for a film like Bertolucci’s.

Bertolucci, whose 1986 film “The Last Emperor” won nine Academy Awards — including best picture and director — has faced controversy before over sexually charged films. His 1972 work “Last Tango in Paris,” starring Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider, initially had distribution trouble and ended up a critical success.