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One part brilliant, one part so-so, one part utter crap. Guess which
one is which. OK, I'll help you out. In the order of appearance:
"The Hand" by Wong Kar-Wai is a solid piece of film-making, but nothing special. Let's just say the Master does not break any new ground with yet another short story of unrequited love. We've seen these characters before, they are not that interesting, and the story itself veers too far into melodramatic to my liking.
"Equilibrium" by Soderbergh is a witty, clever little nugget... and you won't soon forget an unorthodox shrink who indulges in a bit of voyerism on the side while treating his twitchy patient (a great appearance by Robert Downey Jr.)
The Whatever It Was Called by Antonioni is so bad, I could not believe my eyes. Well, unless you enjoy watching gorgeous girls writhing on a bed or dancing on the beach - naked. Oh, you think quite a few people would enjoy that? So did Antonioni. The whole thing looked like an extended male fantasy of a Maserati commercial. No characters or plot, not particularly interesting cinematography...It was just boring.
Bottom line, it was a strange idea to bring together three allegedly great directors on a single ticket, and it did not pay off. Go see it for the Soderbergh piece if nothing else. Wong Kar-Wai fans will be slightly disappointed, and Antonioni fans are beyond salvation.
What a treat! A film school in 104 minutes!
Forget what the detractors say about this. Most seem to think that none of it is erotic enough and few "like" the Soderbergh and Antonioni projects.
But you, dear viewer, you will know this as three explorations into how the eye creates the seductive impulse. And we have three masters, though I wish we also had Greenaway and Medem involved.
I assume that these three did not collaborate in any way. I also assume that the sponsors did not specify that the projects be erotic, rather that they explore what it means to be erotically engaged.
The first we see is by Kar-Wai Wong. His object of desire is Gong Li, who at 40 is still beautiful. She plays a prostitute who conspires to replace her old dressmaker with a young man. (The subtitles call him a tailor, to emphasize the tale that he spins.)
She engages his desire-driven imagination, which binds him to her and brings out his very best in terms of the dresses he creates. She weaves him and through the clothes, he weaves her. Toward the end, the image is polished with her ill and out of favor, and he still as obsessed and caressing a dress he made, moving his entranced hand inside it. It is his hand the title denotes.
At the very end, he tells a tale to his boss of his woman as back in the money, now fully his creation.
The second entry is amazing. Soderbergh is often capable of creating plots with circular reference. And since the very beginning, this notion of one reality creating another has been at his center. But this outdoes even "Full Frontal."
We have three dreams. One is the one we see first, a gauzy look through windows at an amazingly engaging scene: a beautiful redhead bathing and dressing. The dream starts as voyeurism through windows, but as is described later, our voyeur enters the dream as a participant. In the dream, he is on the bed dreaming.
Shift to a psychiatrist's office, where we meet the dreamer, played by Downey, one of our few folded actors. He is a clock designer obsessed with this dream. Over time, he is enticed to lay down and segue from talking about the dream to actually enter the dream. During this time, the psychiatrist begins his own voyeurism out the window.
Most reviewers saw this and thought the comic indifference was the point. Oh my. Their license to view films should be revoked.
As Downey dreams, we enter the third world, the third dream. He pulls a trigger suggested in the earlier segment and wakes into the dream where he is now married to his desire, and he goes to clock-designer work where his assistant is the same guy as the analyst, except he is the one obviously insecure.
All three worlds are set in the 50s. Which is the dream? Which is the source of pulling the desire into reality? Are dreams of desire cinematic or the other way around? Which of the paper airplanes connect?
The third project is widely dismissed as the obsessive sexual impetulance of an old, fading man.
The scene here is simple. A husband and wife have a spat. She is topless at first then puts on a transparent top as they go to a restaurant. There they briefly encounter another inhabitant of the beach resort where this is set. He visits this woman and they seduce each other, apparently a single event.
Later, the husband and wife are reconciled. Both woman happen to be nude on the beach, both seemingly in a sensual plateau. They encounter each other; more precisely the wife encounters the other asleep, casts a shadow on her while she stirs. They stare at each other silently. Neither, incidentally, is particularly attractive.
When the man and his affair begin, he has entered the "other" tower on the beach, after she wonders if he can stand her chaos, absolute chaos. Viewers seem to equate this with his famed trilogy about love from the sixties. Those were dumb films.
How could they forget "Blowup," an essay on how cinematic memory bends or even defines reality. And how he stretched that into wonderful folded space in "Beyond the Clouds."
You have to do some work here. You have to know that this is not about sex, or the erotic figure. Nor even anything at all having to do with examining a relationship. It is all about how perception defines the situation, moved erotically.
Guess no one want to do the work. But if you are interested in film, you'll want to view these three notions of where the eye of love sits. With Wong, it is in the present, Soderbergh in the remembered and Antonioni the expected.
I prefer Wong's world so far as experience. He even takes it as far as not having a script, but making up the movie as he shoots. Love should ideally be erotic, and the invention of that world should be one you coweave with your partner, dressing each other into the miracle.
But these other fellows have hypnotic appeal as well.
Ted's Evaluation -- 2 of 3: Has some interesting elements.
It's always a tricky thing to comment on these 'omnibus' films, where
world-renown directors come together to make little films combined as
one film. The two that are likely most well known to American
audiences, of most recent as twenty years, are New York Stories
(featuring Scorsese, Coppola, and Woody) and Four Rooms (Anders,
Rockwell, Rodriguez, and Tarantino). None of those films are total
masterpieces, due to the fact that there are always un-even bits by the
filmmakers, even in the better segments. Eros is no exception, but I
would argue that there has been some over-load of flack against the
short co-written and directed by 90-something year-old Michelangelo
Antonioni. His segment has been claimed by almost all the critics and
reviewers (on this site and for the press) has been claimed as a waste
of time, as total soft-core porn, the ideals of an old man wanting one
last grip on his libido. I didn't find his segment to be a waste,
although it is one of his stranger, more enigmatic films in his sixty
year career, and it isn't as fascinating as it used to be.
The other two segments are little classics in and of themselves for the younger of the two filmmakers. Wong Kar Wai delivers a touching, sad romantic tale of a tailor's apprentice who has a curiosity about a woman who does something erotic with him on a first visit (hence the title of the segment, The Hand, though it's not as pat a term as might be imagined. The actors involved are all marvelous, and the style in how Kaw-Wai sets up his shots demands attention, despite it being unconventional. The acting is very natural, the music used comes in at just the right moments for emotional contact (you almost anticipate it, and when it comes, it's powerful), and the ending wraps the story up rather fittingly. It goes to show that Kar-Wai might be the most skilled at making romantic-dramas in China, or at least is the most popular.
Steven Soderbergh, likely around the time he directed the slightly off-putting Ocean's Twelve, concocted this sort of comedy of manners, as he says, "so I could have my name on a poster with Antonioni." It stars Robert Downey Jr. and Alan Arkin as a salesman and a psychiatrist respectively, and Downey's character is anxious about his job and, more importantly, about a woman in his dream. Arkin is hilarious in his role as a man who would much rather look out the window with binoculars at someone we do not see in the short. But his physical mannerisms, as Downey goes through his dream to confront himself (filmed in nice black and white, by the way), makes the scene all the more worthwhile. The last shots, jump cuts, of a paper airplane flying out the window are filmed with a fine touch of whimsy. There is also a solid, painterly use of blue in one particular part of the dream scene early on in the segment.
Then we come to Antonioni. First off, let one address the good qualities, or at least the fair, expectable qualities, that come with many of Antonioni's films. In a sense, he's hearkening back to his classic 'trilogy' (L'Aventurra, La Notte, The Eclipse), where a married couple is going through a crisis, and they spend a lot of time not saying anything to one another, and looking out at beautiful Italian landscapes and beaches. In a way, I almost wish this was a feature-length film as opposed to a more or less half hour short. I wanted to know more about these people, about what they do, or what they were doing or going to. But there seem to be two big flaws in the segment (the nudity didn't bother me- there were actually a couple of memorable shots, one of which just a woman's foot on a bed). One was with the music. Some have said that the film is Antonioni's closest trip to soft-core porn. While I would class his directorial eye and style miles above anything on after-midnight Cinemax, the music by Enrica Antonioni and Vinicio Milani is a complete contrast of the music more associated with the director's work, which is either spellbinding in it's atmosphere, or haunting with the usage of rock and roll. Here he uses the music, electronic and with preposterous lyrics, in the more 'erotic' scenes. The other flaw is that, because of the film's short length, there isn't enough time as usual to build up the enigmatic stance of the story. The climax involves the two lead women (one the wife, the other the stranger adulteress) completely nude looking at each other on the beach. While it is interesting to have this image open for interpretation, it is also frustrating in ways that weren't so in the endings to the other Antonioni 'human mysteries'.
I understood some of the implications, but I didn't get the sense of what was lost or what was gained or omitted like in the other two segments. Everything shot and acted looks sweet and tight and concentrated in the segment, still a technical pro, but what exactly is the point? Still, I would not have walked out during the middle of anything by Antonioni, and this, by default the weakest of the bunch, should be open to more interpretation than what Ebert described as "an embarrassment". I felt the eye and mind of an artist working still during "The Dangerous Thread of Things", and my only wish was that I could understand more than what I was seeing and experiencing. Perhaps his segment, like Kaw-Wai's and Soderbergh's, are left up to that interpretation for a purpose. I'll likely want to see all three segments sometime in the future, and maybe get a better take on what eluded me or what enticed me. But, at the least, I didn't leave the theater feeling entirely cheated.
Grade (averaged): B+
The initial concept for making this film was to offer three variations
on the theme of love from three directors from three cultures. Or is
the title 'Eros' more about the erotic than about love? Question
unanswered by this triptych of minor works by some superb directors.
The end result seems to be three streams of conscious thoughts looking
for a reason to make it to the screen. With the brilliance of the three
directors one would expect far more than the film delivers.
Wong Kar Wai presents the strongest of the three films in a dark story about a tailor who sublimates his desire for a courtesan (Gong Li) by making clothes for her - a 'servant' who finally reverses his role. The photography and interweaving of the characters is very beautiful to experience.
Steven Soderberg makes a testy little script about an ad man (Robert Downey, Jr) in therapy with a bizarre psychiatrist (Alan Arkin) exploring a recurring sensual dream. Shot is black and white the actors give it their all but the story is silly and becomes boring with all the distractions Soderberg works into the weak plot.
Antonioni attempts to breathe life into the old Italian movies of lover's spats and diversions and comes up with what feels like a script-less little mess of a movie bent solely on see-through blouses and nude cavorting on beaches.
As a triptych the film just doesn't become airborne, despite some very high powered, first rate directors. Much ado about very little. Grady Harp
And a very bad last 1/3 by Michelangelo Antonioni. I saw this movie last night at the Elgin Theatre at the Toronto International Film Festival and people walked out after seeing the Wong Kar Wai and Steven Soderbergh segments. I find it hard to rate this movie as a whole so I'll rate each segment of the movie separately. First, there was Wong Kar Wai's short film, titled "The Hand", starring Gong Li and Chang Chen. I thoroughly enjoyed this part of the movie, because to me, this definitely portrays what true love is about. It is a very sad story, told with great camera work and the colors were amazing, thanks to Christopher Doyle, the cinematographer. The lighting, soundtrack, and mood were also very enjoyable and complimented each other wonderfully. I rated this part of the movie a 9/10. Then came Soderbergh's short film "Equilibrium". This was more of a comedy, which was very much welcomed since the first part of the film was so sad. Again, the cinematography here was great too, although the story's plot wasn't as easy to follow as Wong's story. The symbolisms were a bit too much, in my personal opinion, but it was still a great short film. I gave this part a 7/10. Then came Antonioni's short movie, which I don't even remember the name of. The plot was almost nonexistent and to me, it was more of an excuse for porn than anything else. Like my friend said, it was as if Antonioni came to America and asked someone what their impression of foreign film was, and made it into this film. I particularly disliked the excessive amount of nudity in this segment of the film, since to me, it posed no greater meaning or purpose. The dialogue also had some of the cheesiest one liners I've seen since Van Helsing. I rated this part a 4/10. Overall, I'd say this movie was a 7/10 mainly because Wong Kar Wai and Steven Soderbergh pulled the average up.
"Eros" (2004) is the collection of three short films directed by
Michelangelo Antonioni (segment "Il filo pericoloso delle cose"),
Steven Soderbergh (segment "Equilibrium") , and Kar Wai Wong (segment
"The Hand"). Each film explores the always exiting and mysterious
subjects of love, sexuality, and desire.
My favorite is "The Hand" a sensual, emotional, powerful and very sad story about a young tailor who put the years of unrequited love for a beautiful call girl in an exquisite dress he created for her. He knew the exact measurements from touch. This segment is so great that I am ready to buy a DVD just to be able to see it often. It is a brilliant work of art from one of the greatest working directors now.
Steven Soderbergh's "Equilibrium" is a funny duet between two excellent actors, Alan Arkin as a voyeuristic shrink and Robert Downey Jr. as his patient who has a reoccurring dream about a beautiful woman.
Michelangelo Antonioni's segment "Il filo pericoloso delle cose" aka "The Dangerous Thread of Things" has been called the weakest in the trio. Many posters call it garbage, the total waste of time, the soft porn made by a man who "got old and got horny". I personally did not find it a waste of time and if the man at 92 wants to make a little film that celebrates beauty and femininity so be it. I feel that Michelangelo's segment is much deeper than it seems - even on the surface it is very attractive to look at.
I saw this movie at the Toronto Film Festival, on the suggestion of
friends who were very excited about Wong Kar Wai's short in particular.
I had never seen anything by that director, but I was interested enough
in the concept of the movie (three short films by three directors of
different nationality) to go along.
The first short, Wong's 'The Hand', is excellent; it is touching and powerful. The acting is so good that the sub-titles are barely necessary; the emotion in their voices conveys meaning in itself. I enjoyed this enough to want to see more of the director's work.
The second is Steven Soderbergh's 'Equilibrium', and it's the sort of film that I sometimes think the West has forgotten how to make. It's a funny, fast-paced bit of banter between two excellent actors (Alan Arkin and Robert Downey Jr.), both of whose professional lives are thrown off balance by women. Also, despite its short running time,it manages to stick in a number of amusing plot twists.
Which brings us to the third short, Michaelangelo Antonini's 'The Dangerous Thread of Things'. As my friend put it: "Like so many directors, he got old and he got horny". This is a shocking combination of bad acting, pointless storytelling, and unnecessary nudity...and this is not just my opinion; by about halfway through, most of the audience was laughing with embarrassment and more than a few were leaving the theatre.
So, in conclusion, Eros is a film of contrasts: two excellent pieces of cinema and one piece of garbage. If you like the work of Wong or Soderbergh, I highly recommend this film. If you are an Antonini fan, stay away...it'll just upset you.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I just watched the film today, and can't help thinking that Almodovar
(who did the linking segments in between the films) would have formed a
more perfect EROS trio with WKW and Antonioni.
Soderbergh's Equilibrium was the flimsiest and weakest short of the three for me, which was unfortunately compounded by the fact that it was wedged between WKW and Antonioni's contributions.
To follow right after the sumptuous, poetic beauty of Doyle's cinematography and WKW's direction only worked to emphasize the lack of richness in the visuals as well as characters of Equilibrium. It also drew unnecessary attention to the overtly "talky" film set mostly in the clinical settings of a shrink's office - in marked contrast to the intimacy of inner emotion and longing displayed in full abundance in The Hand. Ele Keats in the erotic "dream" sequence in Equilibrium failed to conjure up an authentic sense of eroticism and depth, unlike Gong Li's character Hua, and like the rest of film, seemed flat in comparison.
As for Antonioni, in what could very well be his last film, the sense of anticipation by the audience could have also created a lack of patience with the obviousness of Soderbergh's play between dream vs. reality, and also his mockery of psychologists/the psychoanalytic "talking cure" or therapy process.
Like many of his best, Antonioni's short is a deceptively 'simple' film that suggests something deeper: the understanding of love/eros from the perspective of free-spirited women. Like many of his films, the main protagonists are female. To better understand Antonioni's films, it would be useful to try to get into the woman's psyche. Antonioni once said that he concentrates on women in his films because "they are more instinctive, more sincere. They are a filter which allows us to see more clearly and to distinguish things." The Dangerous Thread of Things obviously continues and, in my view, succeeds in this tradition.
In the film, the first couple Cloe and Christopher shows how love can peter out when one ceases to be able to see the wood for the trees - the couple becomes too beset by petty things and the trappings of bourgeois life to appreciate greatness or grandeur in general: according to the synopsis on the film's website, "they barely notice the magnificent ruins and landscapes of Italy - let alone each other."
One senses Cloe's persistent attempts to reconnect with nature: she prefers wearing little to nothing; in the first scene, the camera lingers on her dressing to go out, the dead time of allowing us to see her awkwardness in her attempt. Her American husband, meanwhile, is impatiently waiting for her in his sports car. He snaps at her when she repeatedly expresses that what they had was now finished, and brushes it off simply as just a matter of her withholding from sex with him even as she tries to express how all that was close to her in Nature before now feels oppressive when he is around.
Christopher becomes attracted to the mystery girl who lives in a tower next door. Her freespirited cheerfulness reminds him perhaps of Cloe when they first met. He is attracted by the lack of imposed order ('chaos') within her house. She leads him up to the roof terrace - he is so affected by the magnificent view of the forest canopy that he is beyond words, momentarily forgetting even his lustful pursuit of the girl. They later make passionate love, making the most of the present without any burden or considerations about past or future. She tells him her name - Linda - he doesn't.
Christopher is now in Paris. On the phone, Cloe expresses her longing for him to return; her love is ever present; she only wishes he would change his "attitude." We don't know what she finds so problematic to constantly seek quarrel with him - but maybe his American or consumerist/materialistic values jar with her liberal European or naturist ideals constantly seeking the 'purity' of a primal closeness with nature.
The last scene of the two women taking turns doing a primal dance of unbridled joy on the beach, is rich with the symbolism of their becoming as one in spirit with nature and its rhythms. Their joyful (re)connection with nature and recognition of each other return us to that breathtakingly magical utopia at the canyon depicting two naked siren-like bathers singing in a waterfall.
In terms of image and theme, the film is reminiscent of Picasso's famous Les DeMoiselles d'Avignon. Both shock with an honest depiction of the conflict between the male (also representing modern civilisation and technological objectification) response to the perceived conjunction of threat and temptation posed by female sexuality, nature, love and eros.
To be fair, criticism of the seeming lack of stringency in the direction of the characters does to some extent hold water. There are multiple continuous shots of the couple, but these seldom convey the complexity of their relationship. Some of the shots could also conceivably have been better conceptualized and captured.
This lapse is probably attributable not only to Antonioni's advanced age and health problems, but also to less than ideal cinematography. In a recent Taiwanese TV interview, WKW commented that the reason for any director in his 90s and not in the best physical capacity to want to still make a film would be to satisfy a desire, a love - perhaps this is precisely the eros in the world of film-making that is ultimately portrayed by these directors in the eponymous production.
On the level of ambition and theme, however, Antonioni is still in his element. He did not set out to make just another softcore porn movie as most critics and viewers suggest, nor can it be said to be about nothing. "The Dangerous Thread of Things" is an accomplished film that will in time hopefully be seen for the real gem that it is.
For fans of Wong Kar-Wai, his segment "The Hands" is a must-see, as it ranks among his best, most fully-realized works. A truly stunning piece of work that not only summarizes everything great about his film-making, but which is also more focused and less indulgent than some of his more recent work. Unfortunately, the other two segments, from Steven Soderbergh and Michelangelo Antonioni respectively, don't fair nearly as well. Soderbergh's piece, titled "Equilibrium", is a tediously self-conscious exercise in cerebral cleverness, typical of his attempts at uncommercial "art" film-making (as opposed to his usual faceless Hollywood products). It is basically the cinematic equivalent of an obnoxious faux-intellectual laughing at his own "witty" joke. It only further proves what a truly cold, soulless filmmaker Soderbergh is that his segment of an anthology film supposedly based around the theme of sex is completely devoid of sensuality of any kind. Antonioni's closing segment (baring the appropriately pretentious title "The Dangerous Thread of Things") fairs slightly better, but not enough to prevent it from being a sad near self-parody from what was once one of cinema's leading lights. It is tempting to blame Antonioni's stroke (which rendered him wheelchair-bound and mute in 1985) for his piece's dirty old man sensibility (parts of it approach bad soft-core porn), but even that doesn't excuse the film's sheer almost laughable (if it weren't so tragic) pretentiousness. It could nearly pass as a parody of obtuse, incomprehensible European art films. That said, the film is still more than well worth watching for Wong Kar-Wai's film alone. Since it comes first in the chronology, you can easily watch it and then turn it off before the other two.
I rather enjoy watching short films. Like short stories, there's seldom
room for more than one good idea, so that idea has to be done well--in
the hands of a skilled director, this is an opportunity rather than a
limitation. Eros is a collection of three such films, ostensibly
sharing a similar theme.
Wong Kar Wai's "The Hand" is the first film, and is a premiere example of what a short film can achieve. A concise story about a tailor and a high class prostitute, "The Hand" distills the love/lust theme into a beautiful, intoxicating gem. It is by far the best film of the bunch, perhaps even one of the director's finest.
Steven Soderbergh's "Equilibrium" is the second film in the trio, and features a few shots of a naked woman and a long and unrelated dialog between Robert Downey Jr and Alan Arkin. As far as I can tell the film has vanishing little to do with love, lust, passion or sex--and not much else to say about anything. Soderbergh, who's often hit-or-miss, misses big time with this convoluted short.
Michelangelo Antonioni's "Dangerous thread" (or however it is properly translated) is quite different from the previous two films. It is certainly on message, featuring lots of full frontal nudity and some sex, but doesn't really have much of a story. It actually feels like it is much closer to succeeding than "Equilibrium", if only because it seems to fit comfortably within its time constraints, but the vacuous plot leaves you bored.
In the end Eros is a missed opportunity. After the first film you expect a beautiful tapestry of ideas and perspectives, but it never materializes. Nevertheless, the first film is well worth watching--easily justifying a rental or screening.
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