by Jay Seaver
This sort of anthology movie is a good idea, in theory, one which doesn't get tried often enough. Get a few talented filmmakers together, see if they've got a short story in them on a given subject. Slap three or four of them together, and not only do you have around a hundred minutes of good movie, you can slap a whole bunch of big names on the poster. The question must, then, be asked: Why are these things so often uneven when they are done, with the bad segments outnumbering the good?Caveat: That only appears to be true when it comes to live action. The Fantasias and other animation "jams" are pretty good, but perhaps animators are more used to the short form. Still, half of Four Rooms was pretty bad, and that's assuming I'm feeling generous toward the Tarantino segment. I don't figure Light Years/Alien Love Triangle has been delayed something like five years because the Weinsteins loved it so much that they didn't want to share. And so it is with Eros: One really good segment, one really bad one, and whether the movie is a net positive or negative depends on your impression of Steven Soderberg's middle part.
"Starts very strong, ends very weak."
The first, and best, story comes from Wong Kar-Wai. "The Hand" features a tailor, Zhang (Chang Chen), who remains devoutly loyal to a long-time client even after the shop he works for drops her for non-payment, and she grows weak with a wasting illness. Of the stories, it's the only one that actually seems erotically charged: The first time Zhang visits her, call girl Hua (Gong Li) touches him, intimately, and after that, he's in her thrall. Even after she leaves Hong Kong, to return years later, when she's poor, sick and no longer quite so beautiful, he's completely unable to refuse her. It's something beyond mere infatuation; it's a raw sexual force that he's got no defense against.
Like many of Wong's features, "The Hand" is set in 1960s Hong Kong and features gorgeous Christopher Doyle cinematography. I saw this the same weekend a local theater had a retrospective of the director's works, and it has many similarities to its longer cousins: The tortured romantic. The way everything seems to glisten seductively with fresh rain, sweat, or even a man's hair gel. A great deal of the action being shot not directly, but as a reflection in a rounded mirror. It's Wong Kar-Wai telling a smaller story the same way he'd tell a feature-length one, which is a delight.
Steven Soderbergh's middle segment, "Equilibrium", is entertaining enough, although it doesn't really fit the theme (assuming sexuality is the theme as the title suggests). Nick (Robert Downey Jr.) is discussing a dream, among other things, with a psychiatrist (Alan Arkin), and the dream does involve a beautiful woman. Most of the short revolves around Dr. Pearl not being nearly as interested in his patient as in what's outside the window.
It's funny enough in spots. Downey kind of overdoes his swaggering fifties-speak (like "The Hand", "Equilibrium" is also a period bit), but Arkin is note-perfect, giving a fine comic performance, running on shrink auto-pilot while launching paper airplanes out the window and hiding his binoculars when it looks like his patient might look back. The black-and-white photography of the office is crisp, and the saturated colors of Nick's dream does add a certain sensuality to it.
The last segment, "The Dangerous Thread of Things", comes from Michelangelo Antonioni, and it's... Well, it's not much. Antonioni's got a few ideas, I think, but it's far from clear what he's trying to do with them. There's a guy and a girl talking, and they seem to be lovers. She seems rather fussy, they bump into another girl, who seems friendlier. The man sleeps with this second girl, sort of vanishes, and then the two women lie naked on the beach.
It's kind of clear that the first woman, Cloe (Regina Nemni), represents order and the second, Linda (Luisa Ranieri) represents chaos; Linda makes this explicit at one point. But to what end? There's no real story, and no real eroticism, either - the good-looking cast members are too abstracted to really have any sexual component. It's sad when a movie leads you to sigh that there are naked people running around and you're bored.
As a package, Eros doesn't really work, but for fans of the individual directors, even Antonioni, there is a certain amount of interest. It's too bad that the other segments aren't up to Wong Kar-wai's.Wong Kar-Wai's "The Hand" - * * * ¾ // Steven Soderbergh's "Equilibrium" - * * ½ // Michelangelo Antonioni's "The Dangerous Thread of Things" - * ¾
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originally posted: 05/05/05 20:26:27