Makers, who describe the work as a non-pornographic exploration of the beauty of love-making, blame raising of age rating on censorious influence of Catholic hard right.
A film with extensive, non-simulated sex scenes in 3D, has scarcely troubled the box office but seems fated to become the cause célèbre for an alleged new wave of prudishness in France.
The film Love was booed at the Cannes Film Festival in May and almost universally rubbished by critics.
After a complaint by a right-wing pressure group, a panel of judges ruled this week that the movie should be given an 18 age restriction – a rare event in France for all but outright pornography.
The director and the producer of Love say that the decision reflects the increasing, censorious influence of the Catholic hard right in France.
They have appealed to the state watchdog, the Conseil d’Etat.
By the time that body rules in late September, Love, directed by the Franco-Argentinian Gaspar Noé, may have vanished from cinemas.
In a period of two weeks as an over-16s offering in eight Paris cinemas last month, the movie attracted 15,597 members of the public.
After the Paris administrative court ruled that its over-16 classification should be withdrawn, the movie’s producer, Vincent Maraval, tweeted: “In France it is now forbidden to love if you are under the age of 18.”
Maraval makes his screen debut in the film in a cameo role as a wife-swapping policeman.
In an interview with the newspaper Libération, he said: “We must now wait for the ruling of the Conseil d’Etat. We will then know what kind of country France has become.”
Love is described by its makers as a non-pornographic 3D exploration of the beauty of love-making. It has lingering, non-simulated but not especially explicit love scenes.
The film tells the story in drug-fuelled flashbacks of a tumultuous love affair between an American film student, Murphy (played by Karl Glusman) and his estranged, now vanished, girlfriend, Electra (Aomi Muyock).
Le Monde complained about the film’s “inept screenplay and pscyho-moralising confusion”.
The French film classification board, the Centre National du Cinéma (CNC), gave the movie an over-16 showing licence in June. The Culture Minister, Fleur Pellerin, objected and asked for an over-18 licence. The CNC stood firm.
A legal challenge was made by a right-wing pressure group Promouvoir, which works to “promote Judeo-Christian values in all areas of social life”. A panel of judges decided this week that the “repetition” and “prominence” of non-simulated sex scenes was “likely to disturb the sensibility of minors”.
They ordered that the film’s classification be raised to over 18.
Another French director, Jean-Paul Salomé, said that the ruling overturned France’s traditionally liberal-minded system of film classification and left it open to “second guessing” by right-wing groups and the courts.
He added: “The decision is absurd at a time when anyone, minor or not, can easily find on the internet images far more traumatic than anything in Gaspar Noé’s film.”
The president of Promouvoir, the group which brought the successful legal action, is Patrice André, also known as André Bonnet, a lawyer close to a far-right party which broke away from the Front National in 1999.
“Why do film producers absolutely insist on showing such destructive scenes to the young?” he asked. “If it is an adult film, made by adults, it should be able to stand or fall commercially with an adult audience.”