What was your first time like? Do you remember your first orgasm? What's your sexual fantasy?
These are some of the questions the young Copenhagen women take turns answering in front of the camera in Lea Glob and Mette Carla Albrechtsen's "Venus."
In effect, the questions are broadcast beyond the women in the film. Since "Venus" is devised to bring us as close as possible to the individual women and mirror ourselves in them, we can't help thinking about the questions, too: How was my first orgasm? How many people have I had sex with? What would I have done if I were in the chair these women take turns occupying, and I was asked to take my top off or talk about my erotic fantasies, which I never shared with anyone before?
In both form and content, "Venus" is a simply staged documentary about young female sexuality today. The film comes out of the two directors' need to explore the sexuality of women their own age and slightly younger.
"I've been looking for people to mirror myself in, and the film is constructed like a kind of mirror image," Albrechtsen says. "For instance, I've been thinking about and wanted to ask, How do you become a real woman? How am I as a sexual being? And are those two things even connected? How do I see myself and how do I think the world sees me?"
Glob's motivation is personal, too. "In everything I ever did, I was driven by a desire to explore and a need to understand," she says. "Personally, I always thought it was hard to reconcile being a sexual being with being a person in society. Unconsciously and consciously, I had to try and make a film about it."
"Venus" was shot in Albrechtsen's living room in her apartment in Copenhagen. In preparation, the filmmakers made a website with stories from their own lives, including their frustrations growing up in the country with parents who didn't explain anything to them about sexuality.
Via their site, and ads on the radio and on a film website, the filmmakers asked young women to audition for a film about erotic memories and fantasies. They heard from a number of women and invited them to evening salons at the apartment, in groups of six to eight.
When the women arrived, they first sat in the kitchen and were encouraged to talk about sexuality and the erotic. One by one, they were then led into the living room, where a film studio with a single chair had been set up, and they were asked a series of questions they didn't know ahead of time.
As the young women in the film answer the directors' questions, they run the gamut of sexual emotions – from excitement to joy, sorrow, bashfulness and shame.
Statements So Utterly Honest
As the film progresses, the filmmakers raise the stakes and the questions slowly get more intimate, which feels a lot like seduction. This dramaturgy was planned, Albrechtsen says.
"We tried to build it up like a woman's life might unfold, from the first tentative steps into sexuality until, maybe, you start thinking about having a child. From naive to complex, you might say."
Originally, the audition shots made in Albrechtsen's living room were just supposed to be groundwork. Once that was done, and the filmmakers had more in-depth understanding of young women's erotic fantasies and experiences, they intended to refashion the stories in a fictional framework.
But when they looked through the screen tests, the two directors were so touched that they decided to use them just the way they were.
"These statements are so utterly naked and honest, unique and fine, that we decided to let them stand on their own. Like a chorus of women's voices. We didn't want to take away any of the authenticity, tenderness and fragility. On the contrary, we wanted to protect the intimacy that was already there," Albrechtsen says.
Playing Around with Genres
From the outset, the directors intended to play around a bit with some of the genres that usually filter sexuality in film, Glob says.
"For instance, we were inspired to play with the form of the casting-couch porn genre, where young women are brought into a studio and are goaded into undressing and letting themselves be exploited. The women in our film knew we were playing with the cinematic language. Using genres gave us a boost and the courage and inspiration to describe sexuality from a different perspective than we usually see."
Throughout cultural history, including films, female sexuality has tended to be depicted through the male gaze, Albrechtsen says.
"It was important for us to get into the heads of these women and look at what they were saying when they had to describe what feels erotic, exciting and sexual to them. Are they using their own words? Or have we all been so brainwashed by the films we've seen and the books we've read that we don't even know if the language we're using is our own?"
Some of the questions in "Venus" revolve around the women's own words for their sex. Do they like the words they use? As it turns out, they don't have a useful word for their genitals.
"It's pretty crazy to think that there's no neutral word that feels good to use, because the language for our genitalia has been taken over by either the medical profession or the porn industry," Albrechtsen says.
Brave Young Women
Lea Glob is 32 and Mette Carla Albrechtsen is 34. They met at the National Film School of Denmark and both graduated with degrees in documentary filmmaking. They are independent, educated, culturally savvy women. Even so, at several points during the shooting they had to acknowledge how much stronger and braver some of the youngest women were than they remember being when they were younger.
"There were times when we were shooting, when I found myself sitting across from younger women who had come to realisations I never had," Glob says.
"At one point early on, we were interviewing a girl who was so happy, so in love, so curious, who had an exciting erotic life. Which confronted me with the fact that I didn't. I had just been sitting in a cubicle with my computer for so long. That made me feel the sorrow that comes from being too detached from your body."
Albrechtsen was surprised at times, too. "I hadn't expected that so many women were acting on their desires. That so many just go all in. Younger women are much more reflective and open about their sexuality than I was at their age" •
More about the film
"Venus" is directed by Lea Glob and Mette Carla Albrechtsen and produced by House of Real (contact: Kirstine Barfod) with support from the Danish Film Institute.