‘Instinct’ Director Halina Reijn on Making Onscreen Sex Scenes Safe | Video

Beatrice Verhoeven

When Dutch filmmaker Halina Reijn transitioned from acting to directing, Paul Verhoeven (no relation to this article’s author) gave her one piece of advice that helped her when she started on her film “Instinct,” starring Carice van Houten.

“The thing that Paul Verhoeven said to me when I was working with him as an actor is, ‘You can only direct if you have an urgent question, and you have to have enough energy because you’re so serious about this question to go through the process of moving the whole movie,'” Reijn, who starred in Verhoeven’s “Black Book,” said at TheWrap’s screening of the film at The Landmark in Los Angeles. “When I saw this particular news item, my question was, how is it possible that this woman who is highly trained to know exactly what the dangers are, what are the manipulations of these psychopaths, how can she fall for him, knowing it’s completely bad and wrong? I don’t have any answers, I just have questions.”

“Instinct” is a story about a psychiatrist names Nicoline (van Houten) who falls in love with one of her patients, Idris (played by Marwan Kenzari), a convicted serial rapist. Reijn says it’s a story about “toxic love” and “sexuality,” and it stemmed from a news program she saw on TV that inspired her to dig deeper into the psychology of therapist-patient relationships.

As for the film’s graphic sex scenes, Reijn said she was very deliberate in her approach. “I was just very clear to what I wanted because that is how I like it if I’m an actress, you know, just very clear choreography,” she explained. “I said from the beginning, I don’t want to see any nipples or pubic hair of women, only men. I want to objectify men in this movie. I’ve been objectified for 20 years on stage, so those were my dogmas from the beginning and I asked Marwan about that, but he was totally okay with that. And he really liked that change, because these ways of looking at women are totally conditioned.”

But just because she had a clear idea of how to execute the sex scene, especially to make the actors feel safe, she dreaded that specific day of shooting in her 23-day production schedule.

“I have to be honest with you that I really had a stone in my belly for years knowing that that day would come,” Reijn said. “Of course, it is sort of the core of the film because it takes almost 20 minutes from the moment he rings the doorbell… We also had to be very careful that that scene would not become arousing, you know, not for them as actors, but I mean for the public because, of course, they have chemistry. But for me, when the rape actually happens, it’s nothing… It’s just horrible and nightmarish and weird. For him, it is not about the rape — it’s about the whole power dynamic. And so when he walks into the apartment, I just told him, you are like an animal: you go everywhere, you stand in the shower, your whole territory needs to be marked.”

Watch the full video above.

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