A fully-fledged censorship row has blown up in France following the decision by French high court Conseil d'Etat to give controversial title Baise-moi (Fuck Me), which is already on release, an X rating. Exhibitor MK2 and some independent exhibitors are refusing to remove the film from their screens.

The Conseil d'Etat's ruling followed a complaint by right-wing association Promouvoir and overturned the film's original PG-16 rating. Pathe and Gaumont are no longer screening the film, but MK2 and some independents are keeping it in their theatres under a PG-18 rating in protest.

Several organisations, including French writers' union SACD, film-makers' association SRF, lobby group ARP and the Human Rights League, are also protesting the decision. SRF describes it as: "a breach to the freedom of expression and creation." The French media has also come out in support of the film.

The Conseil d'Etat cannot classify a film, but it can decide to cancel its exhibition permit, which is equivalent to an X rating. Under French regulation, an X-rated title can only be screened in specialised venues and only one such theatre still exists in Paris.

The debate is far from over with many quarters calling for a change in the ratings system and censorship regulations. As Promouvoir has links with French extreme right-wing party, Front National, the Conseil d'Etat's decision is unlikely to get much political support.

Baise-moi is directed by Virginie Despentes from her own best-selling novel and co-directed with porn actress Coralie Trinh Thi. Pan Europeenne is distributing the title in France. Canal Plus division Wild Bunch is handling international sales. The film has already made about $1m at the French box office since opening on June 28.