PARIS — What does it take to shock in the land of the Gallic shrug? Ads that suggest adulterous oral sex, according to complaints about the new movie "Les Infideles."
Posters for the film — which show the contented male stars with faceless women in submissive positions — went up Tuesday but were being taken down Friday following a request from France's self-regulating advertising body.
"We could see that this campaign didn't respect [the rules] with the sexually explicit positions, the play on words ... the boundaries were crossed," said Stephane Martin, the head of the Authority of Professional Regulation of Advertising.
Some French newspapers suggest the ads potentially could cost French actor and comedian Jean Dujardin — nominated for an Academy Award for his role in the hit silent film "The Artist" — the Oscar.
They appear to have hit a raw nerve in a land with fresh memories of the scandal of last year's arrest of potential presidential contender Dominique Strauss-Kahn on charges of attempted rape.
JC Decaux, the outdoor advertising company that hung the posters, conceded they weren't in "good taste" and they all would be down by the end of the day.
They have been replaced by a poster where the male leads stare at two clothed women who walk away.
"We already refused other visuals for this film that seemed unpublishable to us," the company said in a statement — without elaborating on what those images contained.
To some, the rumblings may indicate a post-Strauss-Kahn shift in French mores. When the former head of the International Monetary Fund was arrested last year in New York — on charges later dropped — it set off soul-searching in a country known as a beacon for the sexually liberated and for its acceptance of extramarital affairs.
The posters also have revived questions over whether France's reputed sexual liberation is a one-way street and largely disenfranchising to women.
But some were left scratching their heads over why the ads had caused such a stir, given that French advertising is no stranger to the racy. Yogurt is sold by bare-chested women on mainstream TV and a current ad seems to show a man and woman having sex in the middle of their open-plan office — until we learn he is just applying a hot compress to her back.
"I am more shocked by the fact that the billboard was changed, because for me, there was nothing shocking," said Corinne Maugrenier, 37, as the posters came down Friday. "I think that we are moving toward a puritan system as in the United States."
French newspapers were suggesting Friday that Mr. Dujardin might lose his chance at the Oscar to the stunt.
"America doesn't kid at all with these kind of dirty photos," Le Parisien wrote.
Le Figaro suggested that those promoting rival actors might "play on the Puritanism" of the academy's members to discredit Mr. Dujardin in the notoriously fierce competition.
The company that distributes the film in France, Mars Productions, did not respond to requests for comment. A spokeswoman for Mr. Dujardin and the film also declined.
• Oleg Cetinic in Paris contributed to this report.