Tuesday, February 14, 2006


Eros is an anthology film featuring segments by Wong Kar-Wai, Steven Soderbergh and Michaelango Antonioni. I'll watch anything that Wong Kar-Wai makes, so I was eager to check this out, and the bonus of a short by Soderbergh made it even more enticing. However, the film varies widely in quality.

There's been all kinds of rumors lately about Wong Kar-Wai's next project, but one thing is clear, it's going to be in English, with American actors and shot in the United States. 2046 functioned as in many ways the ultimate Wong Kar-Wai film, taking elements from everything he'd done before and combining them in a story that touches on all his favorite themes. The end of that film seemed to signal the end of an era,and from here he's moving on to new stuff.

That's what makes Eros a bit weird, it's so entranced in the same emotional and physical space of In the Mood For Love/2046 that it feels almost superfluous watching it after seeing the two more extended treatment of the same themes. It's not that it's not a good film, it's just that it feels like Wong Kar-Wai on autopilot, there's no real innovations in the film.

That's how I felt for the first half hour or so. Chen Chang's Zhang is a fusion of Tony Leung's character in 2046 and Ziyi Zhang's in the same film. He's trapped by this one experience of passion, which holds him back, and at the same time the woman he loves so overtly rejects him by flaunting her other men when he's around. This was profoundly emotional territory in 2046, but here it feels like there's at once too much and too little story. The basic events are very simple, as in most Wong Kar-Wai films, but the beauty of most of his work is in the moments between the plot, the acute observations of everyday.

By fitting the whole story in 40 minutes, we lose the sense of these characters as fully developed people, and instead they exist more to move the story forward. Yet, at the same time, it's such a simple idea that I was hoping for some more layers or complexity. Even the style for most of the film was WKW on autopilot, using the same style as in ITMFL, obscuring characters behind objects, not allowing us to see their faces, and showing only one side of a relationship.

That's not to say there isn't some good stuff, the music is still fantastic, and some of the shots, most notably the long slow motion shot of Gong Li fixing her hair. That was a moment that only WKW can do, but most of the short moved too quickly to allow us to luxuriate in the moment.

However, in the end all the emotions come to the surface and we get some of the rawest emotional pain in any of WKW's work to date. The final scene with Zhang and Miss Hua is very powerful, the way that this expression of love becomes incredibly painful for both of them. Zhang running his hand over the dress, trying to breathe life into it is a perfect image, one that encapsulates everything that the film is about. He feels like he has made her into what she's become, he's been a part of life by making her clothes, but without her, it's just fabric.

I like the ambiguity of the ending, not telling us that Gong died, but leaving us to assume that this is indeed what happened. I think it's tough to make a 40 minute film work, because it falls in that void between feature and short. You need a lot of material, but at the same time, there's not enough time to really flesh things out, leading to an inevitable feeling of unfulfilment. It's a good film, but in terms of WKW's canon, it's never going to be anything more than a minor work.

Soderbergh's film is also a minor work, one that's jokey rather than painful. The opening dream sequence is beautifully shot, I love the blue color scheme and the way props from the dream crop up later in reality. Very cool stuff. The psychiatrist scene is funny, but the whole thing feels a bit lightweight, especially positioned after the really affecting finale of 'The Hand.'

The ending is a bit nonsensical, the way I interpreted things, it's that Robert Downey Jr. is struggling to compete with the inventors of the snooze alarm, and as a result, has a dream that he was the one to come up with it. The ending feels a bit goofy, but I do like that final shot, the repeated throwing of the airplane out the window.

But this film looks like a masterpiece compared to the finale, Antonioni's 'The Delicate Thread of Things.' I haven't seen any other Antonioni films, and though I still want to check some out, I'm hoping this film isn't representative of his work. I heard it was really bad, I heard people were walking out, but I thought, it's only 40 minutes, plus it's got a lot of nudity so how bad could it be? Very, very bad is the answer.

This movie is almost a parody of European art cinema, the characters have ambiguous, vaguely philosophical dialogue, a man wanders into a stranger's house and has sex with her, then two women run around naked on a beach. It's a good looking movie, but the narrative is really lacking. There's no character motivation and there's no sense that these characters exist in anything resembling the real world. It's like an art film set in the universe of a porn film, that's the only way to make sense of the behavior.

These are good looking women and the film is enjoyable on that level, but overwhelming that was the fact that there was no real reason for them to be doing anything. Maybe I missed something, but there didn't seem to be any themes, it was just a bunch of stuff that happened, and the final image seemed like it should be important, but there's no real significance from the story. It just doesn't work.

So, on the whole, this wasn't a particularly good film. I'm glad I saw it because the Wong Kar-Wai piece is strong, but they're all clearly minor works from otherwise excellent directors.

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