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BERLIN (Reuters) - Italian actor Nanni Moretti on Wednesday defended himself against accusations of vulgarity from the Catholic Church prompted by a graphic sex scene he performs in his latest movie.
Speaking at a news conference at the Berlin film festival, where the film, "Caos Calmo" (Quiet Chaos), is in competition, Moretti accused Italy's media of stirring up controversy and said its politicians lacked courage to stand up to the Vatican.
"It seems to me that politicians in Italy are more vulnerable and afraid than before," Moretti, who is also a film director, said. "And the newspapers are more and more prisoners of their own hysterical shoddiness."
"Caos Calmo," based on the 2005 novel by Sandro Veronesi and directed by Antonello Grimaldi, tells the moving story of television executive Pietro Paladini, played by Moretti. The book is a best seller in Italy and won the country's top literary prize in 2006.
During a day at the beach with his brother Carlo, played by Alessandro Gassman, Pietro saves a woman from drowning who remains unaware of her rescuer's identity.
On his return home, he discovers his wife has had a fatal accident and Moretti portrays the confused way in which Pietro deals with his grief.
By coincidence, the woman he saved, played by Isabella Ferrari, comes back into his life and the two meet and indulge in a one-off burst of vigorous sex lasting for several minutes.
The scene has provoked controversy in predominantly Catholic Italy, where Moretti, whose film "La Stanza Del Figlio" (The Son's Room) won the top prize at Cannes in 2001, is seen as a leading left-wing intellectual.
Nicolo Anselmi, a priest in charge of the youth ministry for the Italian Bishops Conference, wrote a letter to a Catholic youth Web site saying the scene was "disturbing."
"The two actors make love standing, with their clothes on, without looking at each other," Anselmi wrote, adding that he would have expected instead a more romantic and tender scene, possibly resulting in the eventual birth of a child.
"I think actors and show business people have a great cultural impact and therefore a great educational responsibility towards youths," the letter said.
"It would be good if some of these professional actors started to be conscientious objectors and refused to shoot erotic scenes that are vulgar and destructive."
Moretti told Wednesday's news conference it was not new that people held such opinions, and not just representatives of the Catholic Church.
"What's new is the commotion that all this has caused in our country in the world of politics and media," he said.
Speaking at the same news conference, Grimaldi said the scene was designed to be "raw" and "realistic" as it involved two people dealing with pain and looking for emotional release.
Pietro is afterwards able to put his wife's death behind him while the woman is liberating herself from the men and the failed relationships in her life, he said.
"It's supposed to be a sex scene and not a love scene. It's also quite long because it's supposed to aggravate the viewer at a certain point."
Italian film critics have said the scene, which ended up on You Tube well before the film was released, is quite tame compared with the book, where it goes on for several pages.
Additional reporting by Silvia Aloisi in Rome