There’s no denying it – our understanding of intimacy has been undoubtedly informed by the movies. For many of us, it’s where we first learned about the “birds and the bees” and where our sexual education began. From the thrilling highs to the complicated lows, they’ve provided us with a base understanding of adult relationships and often provide more questions than answers. But, when we consider the history of sex in cinema, there’s one glaring omission that until recently has mostly been ignored – sex and disabilities. In this week’s Staff Pick Premiere, “Prends-Moi,” Canadian filmmaking duo Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette and André Turpin bravely and beautifully dive right into the topic to offer a frank and moving depiction of intimacy between a couple with disabilities and Sami, a medical assistant forced to reconcile his beliefs with his new, delicate responsibility. After a successful festival run, including the Toronto International Film Festival and the Sundance Film Festival, we’re proud to share this honest — and very necessary — perspective on Vimeo.
The film opens in a sterile hospital room, where Sami quietly transfers a physically disabled young man onto a bed. Judging from his methodical and precise gestures, it seems as if a routine medical procedure is about to take place. That is, until we learn that this is the intimacy room and his wife is there, patiently waiting to make love to her partner. It all seems to go according to plan until the couple struggles in the act and requires Sami’s assistance. From there, the film cleverly weaves the two perspectives, showing both the complicated reality of their love while asking you to question your own misconceptions. “Sex is beautiful and essential and it is cruel that everybody doesn’t have equal access to this life treasure,” explain the filmmakers. “We made a political and poetic film that shows how sex is also beautiful and essential for physically challenged people and how society has a main role to play in its access to all.”
While researching for the film, the filmmakers identified various obstacles and the lack of education among caretakers led them to Sami’s character. “We tried to show that the problem is not only a personal and physical issue but a societal one as well,” they explained. “It is understandable that some hospital staff might have moral or religious issues with this responsibility — “I did not sign for this” — but we, as a society have to rethink how we deal with sexual problems of this type in a very concrete and human way. It is our opinion that everybody should have access to sex and that this type of specially adapted service should be available to all.”
Barbeau-Lavalette and Turpin, whose combined credits include award-winning films, documentaries, and cinematography work, opt for a quiet realism that prioritizes the actor’s phenomenal performances to communicate their sensual desires and internal conflict. A simple “thank you” at the end reminds us of the value of this deeply human experience, while a tracking shot through the hospital hallway reveals the isolation and loneliness often felt by those unable to access these services.
Ultimately, a wide range of disabilities and special needs means that each experience is unique and every couple must be in constant negotiation to find what works for them. And frankly, this is an idea that holds true for everyone. What “Prends-Moi” highlights is that far too often we’re given a simplistic version of what love looks like while ignoring the alternate ways in which people experience pleasure. By emphasizing the joy shared between the couple and their relationship with Sami in the final shots, Barbeau-Lavalette and Turpin remind us of the work still left to do and the consequences of turning a blind eye.
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