Reuter Reports FORGET the violins and the soft fade to waves on a beach as the sweethearts embrace. Acclaimed British film director Michael Winterbottom sets out to break long-standing cinematic taboos about sex in his new and controversial film Nine Songs, competing in Spain's San Sebastian film festival this week. “Other films deal with all the other parts of a relationship, but not the sex thing,” said Winterbottom, describing his approach. “The idea was just to let you actually see two people in bed.” His film explores a relationship via intense and moving love-making scenes, many of which have no musical backdrop, only the sound of sighs. The sex scenes are interspaced with electrifying live performances at concerts which the couple attend. Groups include Franz Ferdinand, Primal Scream, The Dandy Warhols and, somewhat incongruously, Michael Nyman.

The film has had no problem obtaining a general release in Spain, a country Catholic in name at least, where it opens nationally today. But it has been waiting for a classification as something other than pornography in Britain for some months now.

Winterbottom says he aimed to do away with what he calls cinema's “anachronistic” approach to sex in his follow-up to the 2003 winner of the prestigious Berlin Film Festival's Golden Bear. “The point was about giving no other character background and keeping it as simple as possible,” he told reporters. “Why can't you show sex in a film like it is, what's so bad about it?” The hour-long story of the relationship between Matt and Lisa, is told in retrospect, with minimal dialogue, in short and intense chapters in the bedroom. Those scenes are extremely explicit -including full shots of fellatio and masturbation - and filmed entirely in natural light, making it at once intimate without being salacious. “If you're with two people long enough and they're honest enough, there's always going to be something interesting there,” Winterbottom said. The result appears to have surprised even those who took part in the film. “It's an extreme escapist approach, but I like the honesty of it ... watching it now, it makes me uncomfortable seeing something so real,” Margo Stilley, the actress playing Lisa told reporters. The director, whose films includes Wonderland, 24-Hour Party People, The Claim, Jude and the Berlin prize-winner, In This World, is a favourite with the organisers at San Sebastian and last year had a special retrospective here. Nine Songs, which has parallels with French director Patrice Chereau's Intimacy - which won the Golden Bear at Berlin in 2001 - wasn't formally scripted. The actors were told how the scene was supposed to conclude, and they had to work out how it would develop. The actors stressed the difficulty of filming such intimate material credibly. “I've been in love, so I tried to incorporate that, but it was difficult because I wasn't in love with (leading actor) Kieran (O'Brien). But we're like a family (during filming) we ate together, we travelled together ... so after a while it was comfortable,” said Stilley. l Nine Songs opens at Palma's Renoir cinema this afternoon, Rated 18. See What's On page for details.