A year after the furore about censorship and freedom of expression provoked by Baise-Moi, French culture minister Catherine Tasca has reinstated the 18 certificate in France. The controversial rape film is now also looking set for a UK release.

According to the new French regulations a film will obtain the new 18 certificate, instead of an X, if it wins the approval of three-thirds of the Classification Commission. (Baise-Moi's PG-16 rating was won by only one vote).

The film - an extremely violent and graphic rendering of Virginie Despentes' best-selling novel, which she co-directed with porn actress Coralie Trinh Thi and which featured two former porn stars, Karen Bach and Raffaela Anderson, in the lead roles -- had been given a PG-16 rating and opened June 28, 2000. But, following a lawsuit by Promouvoir, an association promoting "judeo-christian and family values", the French court Conseil d'Etat cancelled the film's exhibition permit and reclassified it as an X, effectively banning it from public French theatres.

The decision sparked an outcry among French film industry organisations, which deemed it "a breach to freedom of expression". Two independent exhibitors refused to pull the film from their screens, and several French film-makers, led by Romance director Catherine Breillat, signed a petition and staged a protest in front of one of the theatres still screening the film.

Produced and distributed by former PolyGram subsidiary Pan Europeenne, Baise-Moi opened strongly racking up over 26,000 admissions on its three day 80 print initial run. StudioCanal's specialist division Wild Bunch, which also backed the title and handled foreign sales duties, has sold Baise-Moi extensively.

Baise-Moi was recently passed with only a very minor cut of about six seconds in the UK. The British Board Of Film Classification, which has eased up on portrayal of sex, but remains very vigilant on sexual violence said that the uncut version was unsuitable even for release in sex shops: '[Without the cut] the scene takes on a more explicitly pornographic dimension and is a matter of serious concern' even the guidelines set by the BBFC for R18 sex videos (pornography which is available only through licensed sex shops) prohibit such explicit sexual violence.'

The film, which is handled by Feature Film Company, is expected to get a moderately wide theatrical release in November. While he says 'I cannot think of a film that has been more graphic,' Feature Film's chief executive of UK distribution, Mick Southworth, said: 'The film is not gratuitous or exploitative, but a very intelligent piece of European cinema.

'The BBFC have been very supportive. We have also screened it for a number of leading female journalists. One said afterwards that it had been a life changing experience.'

Southgate added that he has had offers from several video distributors and said that he expects to soon sign a video distribution deal.

Additional reporting by Patrick Frater