Stephen Schaefer
October 23, 1992 AT 04:00 AM EDT

It’s a hit in London and Paris, and it was recently cheered on the closing night of Spain’s San Sebastian Film Festival. But Roman Polanski’s Bitter Moon has yet to find a distributor in the U.S. because it appears to be headed for a dreaded NC-17 rating. The twist, however, is that the rating would not be based on excessive nudity or violence. Moon features obsessive, destructive lovers (Peter Coyote and Emmanuelle Seigner, 26, Polanski’s now-six-months-pregnant wife) who play kinky games of psychological domination — and the film might merit an NC-17 because it’s just too damn nasty.

Polanski finds the specter of an NC-17 puzzling. ”There is nothing specifically that hasn’t been shown in movies before,” he says. ”There is little nudity. There isn’t a great deal of sex or physical violence. There is a great deal of psychological violence. (Maybe) the subject touched chords in us which some would prefer to leave silent.”

One American who screened Moon at the festival in Spain says an NC-17 for Moon — based on philosopher Pascal Bruckner’s 1981 novel, Luna de Fiel — ”wouldn’t be for any one specific scene. The film’s overall tone is saturated in degrading sexuality.”

Polanski’s defense: The book was worse than the film. In fact, it was too much even for him. ”The book moves much further into forms of perversion,” he says. ”What I couldn’t stand, I wouldn’t want others to endure.”

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