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Pleasure directed by Ninja Thyberg
Pleasure directed by Ninja Thyberg

Since 2018, the Zurich Film Festival’s “Hashtag” section shines a spotlight on a highly topical issue. The hashtag chosen for the 17th ZFF, #letSEXplore, is all about sex – uninhibited and in all its many forms.

“MeToo has fundamentally changed the way we approach sex, particularly in the film industry,” says Artistic Director Christian Jungen. “Many commentators predicted that we were entering an age of neo-prudery. We would like to use our ‘Hashtag’ section to demonstrate how we have changed the way we view our bodies. It has become more diverse, with onscreen lovers as well as the directors who film them exploring new forms of love. #letSEXplore is a series of sensual, life-affirming films for an urban, open-minded audience.”

“We have noticed a normalization of sexuality in films,” say Christine Albrecht and Aurel Graf, programmers of the #letSEXplore section. “It is no longer dominated by the ‘male gaze’ where women are presented from a purely heterosexual male perspective. In PLEASURE, a film about a 20-year-old Swedish woman who travels to the USA to become a porn star, for example, the male genitalia are much more prominent than the female. And when three young lads set out to experience their first time with a sex worker in DEATH OF A VIRGIN, AND THE SIN OF NOT LIVING, the film deconstructs gender norms. Queer characters are also no longer defined by their sexuality, and categories are becoming increasingly fluid. LES OLYMPIADES, for example, follows young people in the 13th district of Paris as they explore new forms of friendship and sexuality, also practicing same-sex love without a second thought. The film shows with light-heartedness and humour that sex is more and more simply a part of life, even in cinema.”

The “Hashtag” section program comprises five feature films and three documentary films.

Zurich Film Festival 2021 “Hashtag” Program – #letSEXplore


Premiere in the German-language realm
Sweden, Netherlands, France, 2021
Director: Ninja Thyberg
Cast: Sofia Kappel, Revika Anne Reustle, Kendra Spade, Dana DeArmond, Evelyn Claire

20-year-old Linnéa aka “Bella Cherry” wants to become the next big porn star. Having arrived in Los Angeles, she quickly realises that she can only rise to the top if she is willing to serve all sexual fantasies – even those that involve pain and humiliation. With explicit, aesthetic as well as oppressive scenes, PLEASURE takes us into a merciless, male-dominated business in which lust, violence and power seem inseparable.


Swiss Premiere
Romania, Luxembourg, Czech Republic, Croatia, 2021
Director: Radu Jude
Cast: Katia Pascariu, Claudia Ieremia, Olimpia Mǎlai, Nicodim Ungureanu, Alexandru Potocean

Nobody was supposed to see the sex video, Emi just wanted to have some fun with her husband. But the film ends up on the Internet and Emi’s job as a teacher is in jeopardy. Director Radu Jude presents an unflinching and highly amusing account of the hypocritical double standards of our society and the real obscenities of everyday life. The film scooped the main prize at the 2021 Berlinale.


European Premiere
Doc: Social & Human Interest
USA, UK, 2021
Director: Alex Liu

Let’s talk about sex, baby! After being drilled as a teenager in high school sex ed about how shameful his own pleasure is, now adult filmmaker Alex Liu embarks on a mission to overcome shame. He meets with professionals, friends and family to talk about such taboo subjects as pornography and masturbation. Packed with humour, and a whole load of naked truths, the film normalises an often avoided discourse.


Swiss Premiere
Coming of Age
Lebanon, 2021
Director: George Peter Barbari
Cast: Etienne Assal, Adnan Khabbaz, Elias Saad, Jean Pierre Frangieh, Feyrouz AbouHassan

Today, they want to become real men. Etienne and Adnan have scraped together the last of their money and arranged to meet a sex worker. On the way there, they brag like machos, their inner monologues, however, reveal how nervous and vulnerable they really are. The film sensitively exposes the desires and fears of its characters, who are growing up between modern and conservative ideas in Lebanon.


Premiere in the German-language realm
France, 2021
Director: Jacques Audiard
Cast: Lucie Zhang, Makita Samba, Noémie Merlant, Jehnny Beth, Camille Léon-Fucien

The teacher Camille becomes roommates with fun-loving Émilie. Even without romantic feelings, they live out their mutual physical attraction – with regular and uncomplicated abandon. Then Camille’s interest in the student Nora is also piqued. Everyone wants non-commitment – but how long can you keep your feelings out? Dynamic black-and-white images bring to life the inner world of a young and volatile generation.


Premiere in the German-language realm
Doc: Social & Human Interest
USA, 2020
Director: Maria Finitzo
Protagonists: Dr. Stacey Dutton, Sophia Wallace, Dr. Lisa Diamond, Ti Chang

A biologist teaches students about the structure of the clitoris. A psychologist dispels age-old myths. An industrial designer develops elegant vibrators, and a conceptual artist illustrates the importance of the clitoris. The unstoppable women portrayed in this film defy patriarchal ignorance and celebrate female pleasure to create a new body consciousness.


Swiss Premiere
Israel, 2021
Director: Hadas Ben Aroya
Cast: Elisheva Weil, Leib Lev Levin, Yoav Hait, Hadar Katz

Danny is searching for Max to tell him about her unplanned pregnancy. Max is with his girlfriend Avishag, giving in to her sexual fantasies. A surprising familiarity develops between Avishag and her older neighbour Dror. A generational picture of young Israelis who pretend to be open and unattached, but long for closeness is reflected in three loosely linked chapters.


Doc: Social & Human Interest
Italy, 2020
Director: Francesco Cavanná
Protagonists: Claudia Muffi, Marco Purzo

21-year-old Claudia, who suffers from spina bifida, wants to explore her sexual needs. She hires Marco, who is currently taking a course as a “love giver” – a project that helps physically disabled people discover their bodies and sexuality. A powerful film portrait of an incredibly open protagonist who offers us insight into her emotional and physical journey.

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