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article imageReview: 'The Sex Temple' pits an LGBT safe space against moral outrage Special

By Michael Thomas     May 5, 2016 in Entertainment
When the owner of a swinger's club that has just burned down meets the owner of a financially struggling theatre, the two men form an unlikely partnership. But their big plans run up against rampant NIMBYism.
Given the current uproar in the U.S. over North Carolina's controversial (and possibly illegal) bathroom bill aimed at transgender people, Johan Palmgren's The Sex Temple feels very timely.
Set in Norrköping, Sweden, the film tells the story of two men who form a financial partnership and attempt to create a "Nordic Moulin Rouge" — a theatre with burlesque shows on the main floor and a swinger's club in the basement. Not surprisingly, Norrköping's population quickly gives into moral panic over the perceived house of perversion.
What is obvious from the start is that Christian (the swinger's club owner) and Robin (the Arbis theatre owner) are not trying to lure innocent people and corrupt them with sex. Rather, they're trying to create a place where LGBT people and swingers can have a safe space. Both men make very compelling subjects. Christian is not a swinger himself, and in fact financed the Adam & Eve swinger's club with money from a pool business he owns. Robin is a larger-than-life gay man who wants to put on spectacular shows featuring LGBT people and maybe even make enough money to save his struggling Arbis theatre.
The dynamic between strait-laced Christian and the more open and fun Robin is what drives the film forward. After they strike up their partnership, both men see Arbis dragged through the mud on television and in print and react with disgust. While Robin is more vocal with his anger, Christian sighs and tries to focus on his work to turn Arbis' basement into a new swinger's club.
The people who join Christian and Robin's project are also compelling; Anna is one of the first customers at Christian's new club and finds a whole new world; two transgender women become fast friends as a part of Robin's weekly burlesque show.
There's lots of footage from the theatre as its new activities start to get underway, including a fairly graphic sequence from an Eyes Wide Shut-themed show that has theatregoers lined up out the door to get in. The unflinching camera provides some surprisingly candid moments, like one woman, with no embarrassment, giving a talking-head interview topless in Christian's club.
Though the ending leaves Robin and Christian in uncertain circumstances, the final sequence gives a glimmer of hope that these types of shows could catch on elsewhere.
The Sex Temple will hold one final screening at the Hot Docs International Film Festival in Toronto on May 8. Click here for more of Digital Journal's coverage of Hot Docs 2016.
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