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Overall Rating
3.33

Awesome: 0%
Worth A Look: 40%
Just Average53.33%
Pretty Crappy: 6.67%
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2 reviews, 3 user ratings


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Eros
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by Peter Sobczynski

"A flawed-but-intriguing tribute to one of the world's great filmmakers"
4 stars

Whether or not you find the new anthology film “Eros” a fascinating cinematic experiment or a crashing bore will depend to a large extent on the expectations for it that you will be carrying into the theater along with your popcorn. If you have been lured in by the title, the alluring poster and the suggestion that it will be a high-class excursion into erotica–sort of an art-house “Red Shoe Diaries”–you will be bored and bitterly disappointed. However, if you are going in order to witness a tribute to the career of one of the world’s most highly renowned filmmakers, featuring both a new short film from the man in question as well as contributions by a pair of equally acclaimed directors who have long spoken of him as a key influence on their own careers, you are likely to find “Eros” a fascinating experiment that more than transcends its occasional rough patches.

The filmmaker in question is the legendary Italian director Michaelangelo Antonioni, who single-handed changed audience notion of what a film could say and do with such gems as “L’Avventura,” “Blow-Up” and “The Passenger.” Although his particular filmmaking approach–which favored oblique narratives in which precious little seems to be going on, at least on the surface, and characters whose emotionless ennui is the inevitable result of an increasingly depersonalized world–has fallen out of favor in recent years, his best films are timeless formal masterpieces and still carry the power to provoke viewers into passionate debates decades after their initial releases. The acolytes are Wong Kar-wai, the Hong Kong-born director of such films as “In the Mood for Love” and “Chungking Express,” and Steven Soderbergh, both of whom have spoken in the past about their fascination for Antonioni’s work. In “Eros,” the trio have come up with three short films dealing with the subject of erotic desire, a theme that has held a lifelong fascination for Antonioni. The results are a mixed bag–sometimes staggeringly beautiful and sometimes staggeringly pretentious–but as multi-director anthology films go, this is a far more cohesive work than the likes of “New York Stories” or “Four Rooms.”

Wong’s segment, “The Hand,” kicks things off with a young tailor’s assistant (Chang Chen) who is hired by a glamorous prostitute (Gong Li) to serve as her dressmaker, sealing the deal in a manner that inspires a lifetime of devoted service. Though his love is unrequited, he expresses his adoration for her through his work even as his fortunes rise and hers take a tragic turn. Soderbergh’s contribution, “Equilibrium” stars Robert Downey Jr as a highly-strung 1950's ad executive plagued by a recurring erotic dream involving a woman whose identity he cannot recall once he awakens. He spills his story to a psychiatrist (Alan Arkin) without realizing that the doctor is indulging in some odd sexual peccadillos of his own, literally behind his back. Antonioni wraps things up with “The Dangerous Thread of Things,” an oddity about a long-married couple (Christopher Buchholz and Regina Nemni) who are at each others throats. The husband tries to find relief with a one-night stand with a sexy young horse trainer (Luisa Raineri) but feels no different afterwards–later on, the wife and the other woman will meet up as well in an unexpected manner.

Of the three, the most artistically successful is clearly Wong’s segment, a short as visually gorgeous (courtesy of cinematographer Christopher Doyle) and as tantalizingly oblique as his feature-length films and anchored by a pair of spellbinding performances from Li and Chang. In fact, there is a good chance that it may be the single best thing that Wong has put on film to date and the suggestion that “The Hand” ties into his next feature, the upcoming “2046" (according to people I know who have seen both), makes me want to see that film as soon as possible. Soderbergh’s contribution is a bit of piffle that is entertaining enough–the performances from Downey and Arkin are funny and Soderbergh’s black-and-white cinematography (shot under his “Peter Andrews” pseudonym) is beautiful–but it doesn’t really go anywhere and the final punchline is a bit of a letdown.

Antonioni’s concluding short has come under the most critical fire from people accusing it of being boring, pointless and simply an excuse to film a bunch of beautiful naked actresses under the guise of High Art. These are observations that I cannot disagree with, but I would suggest that there is a little more going on than its critics would have you believe (and I would also point out that films such as “L’Aventurra” received similar harsh critiques before it became accepted as a masterpiece years later). The nudity (and this is by far the most explicit segment) is necessary to show that while the characters are all physically exposed, the seemingly undeniable fact of their nakedness is nullified by the emotional suits of armor that they all don. As for the rest, I suspect that part of the problem is that, unlike most filmmakers working today, who take pains to make sure that there isn’t a single aspect of their work that is not easily explained, Antonioni shows us everything but tells us nothing and forces us to actually interact with the material in order to decide what has happened.

Like most anthology films, “Eros” is like being invited to a fancy dinner being prepared by some of the world’s top chefs, only to discover that each one is merely preparing an appetizer–you can easily fill up on them but even at their best, they still aren’t quite as satisfying as a full meal from any one of them might have been. However, “Eros” works a little better than most examples because all of the chefs in question are working from the same cookbook. It isn’t the kind of film that I would blindly recommend to someone in the way that I might with “Sin City”–its pleasures are more refined and not to everyone’s taste. However, if you have made it to the end of this review and are still curious, then I suspect that you will also find “Eros” a worthwhile experience that will stick in the mind for a long time after the screening has ended.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=10592&reviewer=389
originally posted: 04/07/05 23:22:59
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Toronto Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

6/20/06 Agent Sands Kar Wai's was very good, but I'm sorry. I liked Soderbergh's the best. 3 stars
9/19/04 denny kar wai wong's was very good; soderbergh's was tolerable; last part was almost unwatchable 2 stars
9/19/04 Jan WOng Kar Wai's segment makes this film somewhat worthwhile; Antonioni's segment truly awful 3 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  08-Apr-2005 (R)
  DVD: 07-Feb-2006

UK
  22-Sep-2006

Australia
  N/A




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