Cannes gets steamy with strippers and sex motels

The Cannes Film Festival took a steamy turn Wednesday as sex worker saga “Anora” wowed critics, and a red-hot Brazilian thriller set in a seedy adult motel had its world premiere.

With the French film gathering nearing its climax, “Anora”, which begins as a modern Cinderella tale about a New York erotic dancer, has emerged as a possible Palme d’Or contender.

Ani, played by Mikey Madison (“Scream”), is an escort who works at a Manhattan strip club, occasionally providing extra services for clients.

She strikes gold when a transactional affair with Ivan (Mark Eydelshteyn), the 21-year-old son of a Russian oligarch, rapidly escalates into something more.

But when Ivan’s billionaire parents hear rumours of marriage and dispatch a trio of goons to fix the situation, Ani must decide whether to cling on to her dream new life, or cooperate.

It is the latest from indie director Sean Baker, who has chronicled sex workers and porn stars with previous films such as “Starlet”, “Tangerine” and “Red Rocket”.

“We’re all fascinated by it,” Baker told AFP.

“We all have different opinions about sex work. Some people consider it a liberating thing for people to do while others would say it entraps them and exploits them. So it can be explored forever.”

Baker also called for sex work to be decriminalised, because “sex workers’ bodies are sex workers’ bodies.”

“Anora” earned rave reviews. The Guardian hailed an “amazing, full-throttle tragicomedy of romance, denial and betrayal”.

It is one of 22 movies in competition for the Palme d’Or, the top prize of the Cannes Film Festival, with the winner announced Saturday by a jury led by “Barbie” director Greta Gerwig.

“Anora” is being released in the US by NEON, the indie label that has distributed the last four Palme d’Or winners.

Other frontrunners this year include “Emilia Perez”, a musical about a narco boss who undergoes a sex change, and “The Substance”, a feminist body horror starring Demi Moore.

Francis Ford Coppola’s ambitious fable “Megalopolis” has its admirers but proved sharply divisive, while Donald Trump biopic “The Apprentice” has drawn strong reviews as well as legal threats from the ex-president.

– ‘Vacuous’ –

Premiering later on Wednesday is “Motel Destino”, an erotic thriller about destiny and desire from Brazilian director and artist Karim Ainouz.

A young gangster on the run takes refuge at a neon-hued roadside sex motel, where he becomes embroiled in the lascivious lives of the couple who own it.

There was more on-screen eroticism from Italy’s Paolo Sorrentino, who returned with “Parthenope”, a meditation on beauty set in his native Naples and focused intensely on the figure of young actor Celeste Dalla Porta.

Sorrentino told AFP the film’s philosophical script sought to escape “the boredom of everyday dialogue”.

The director of the Oscar-winning “The Great Beauty” offered his usual lush visuals, but reviews ranged from “exquisite” (Variety) to “utterly vacuous” (The Telegraph).

With just two days left of competition entries, expectations are high for Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof’s “The Seed of the Sacred Fig” on Friday.

An outspoken critic of his government, Rasoulof dramatically announced he had fled the country last week after being sentenced to prison.