Following the death of a mother, a father and son open up a brothel in their Genevan estate after watching 8½ (1963).Following the death of a mother, a father and son open up a brothel in their Genevan estate after watching 8½ (1963).Following the death of a mother, a father and son open up a brothel in their Genevan estate after watching 8½ (1963).
What few have picked up on is that (as well as an attempt to pick up Fellini's 8 1/2-ball and run with it), this is almost a remake of "A Zed and Two Noughts". Both films study bizarre responses to bereavement. both films play on doubling, in this case a father and son rather than two brothers. Both films touch on bestiality (with animals called Hortense!), gynecology, sex with amputees, a menagerie (in this case of women rather than animals), prostitution, uses of light, storytelling, and the colours black and white.
Where that film referenced painting, this references performance in many guises - cinema, kabuki, cross-dressing, opera, television, prostitution, as well as painting.
Contrary to at least one other user comment, there is no sexual intercourse shown in the film, although there is a quantity of nudity. It's very odd, if perhaps unsurprising, that this film has been sold as a sexy movie. SexIST? Well, confusing an ironic depiction of men's sexual fantasies with a reduction of women to the level of fantasy is 'politically correct' laziness at best. And as with most of Greenaway's films, the women are the winners in the end.
One reason this is harder work than the earlier film is the lack of Michael Nyman's ravishing music. I'm not sure why Greenaway stopped working with Nyman; possibly he felt he was stuck in a rut - perhaps he was nettled by charges that any old footage looked like Greenaway if you played Nyman's music behind it. Either way, he's yet to arrive at a truly satisfactory alternative. Here we have "Slow Boat to China" sung a capella by the two leads, rather after the manner of Morecambe and Wise. It's quite funny, but it's not the marriage of sound and image of earlier films.
The extent to which Philip Emmenthal represents Greenaway himself is perhaps worth considering. A character makes reference to Fellini having Mastroianni make love to all the women Fellini couldn't, and asks whether all directors make films to fulfil their own sexual fantasies. Emmenthal is notably the same age as Greenaway.
He may not be sweeping the art-house scene before him these days (in fact there's not much of an art-house scene left these days), but in the end, even below-par Greenaway is better than 99% of directors can even aspire to.
- Jun 28, 2004