Let’s Talk About…Sex

in 74th Berlinale - Berlin International Film Festival

by Ron Fogel

Let’s Talk About…Sex. In the Panorama section, one intriguing and thought-provoking film stood out for Ron Fogel. Two men in monogamous, heterosexual marriages both have experiences that make them question their sexuality in a world that is constantly changing and nowadays becoming more gender fluid.

One of the main attractions of being on the Fipresci jury of the Panorama section is because this section usually has many ‘on the edge’ and uncompromising films. One of the most original and innovative films in the Panorama section this year was a Norwegian film called Sex by director Dag Johan Haugerud.

In sunny Oslo, two chimney sweeps (who seems very masculine and far away from those friendly chimney cleaners in Mary Poppins) confide in each other. One of them just had a sexual encounter with a male client -for whom he has cleaned his chimney, and the other is having a recurring dream about David Bowie making a pass at him in a party while he is dressed as a woman.

Both men are puzzled and confused -does a sexual fling with a guy or being dressed as woman in a dream mean they are gay?

This is the starting point for a film that deals with questions of gender and midlife crisis. The director understands these are delicate subjects, so everything is done in a very gentle and sometimes humorous way.

The guy who had sex with a male client tells what happened to his wife -she is dumbfounded at first and then tries to cope with what happened. His friend who dreams of himself dressed as a woman is a very religious -he talks with his wife and son and asks them whether his dreams mean that he is a sinner. 

Both the leading protagonists of Sex (played by the excellent Jan Gunter Roise and Thorbjorn Harr) are unnamed during the film. This can only mean that they are used as a symbol to the ordinary men who question their sexuality in a world that is constantly changing and nowadays is becoming more and more gender fluid.

The cinematic work is almost flawless as the camera swipes (no ‘pan’ intended) over the streets and rooftops of Oslo, and the viewer gets the feeling that beneath all the serenity the city displays there is more than meets the eye.

The main strength of the film is its script. Most of the plot shows the protagonists talking to each other and to their families. These are long elaborate scenes marked with awkward silent moments. It seems that even today it is quite embarrassing to just talk about sex and the director tries to understand why through his characters.

One of the funniest scenes in the film takes place in the clinic of the female family doctor of one of the two main characters (the religious guy who dreams he is dressed as a woman). He goes there with his son because he has a rash on his skin (he is also having problems with his voice-are these health issues are all coming from his uncertainty about his sexual identity?). The doctor tells the disturbed father and his son a tale of two men who are in love and one of those men goes to enormous lengths to give his lover the ultimate birthday present. The fable which seemed to come straight out of a Woody Allen film – only confuses our protagonist even more. This scene, like many scenes in the film, makes one think that the director seems to enjoy raising questions and leaving some of the narrative unsolved – maybe some ‘food for thought’ for the viewer.

Sex is planned to be the first part of a trilogy with the same cast and dealing with the same subjects as in the first part: Gender, identity, and freedom (to choose?). One can only hope the second and third parts of the trilogy will be as good as the first part… 


Ron Fogel
Edited by Steven Yates