Eros is love touched by brilliance, three movie explorations of eroticism and desire from three of the world’s most outstanding directors. A tailor (Chang Chen) knows from touch the exact measurements needed to create a dress for his longtime unrequited love (Gong Li) in The Hand, directed by Wong Kar Wai. Steven Soderbergh writes and directs the droll Equilibrium, as a harried ad exec (Robert Downy Jr.) describes a mysterious dream woman to his distracted shrink (Alan Arkin). And Michelangelo Antonioni brings his at once earthy and esoteric touch to The Dangerous Threads Of Things, where plot gives way to mental adventure and a celebration of female form. Tactile awakenings. Voluptuous dreamings. Sensual provocations. Tales of passion meet a passion for filmmaking in Eros.
eyelights: “The Hand”.
eyesores: the tone of “Equilibrium”. the dialogues of “The Dangerous Thread of Things”.
I used to shop at a bootleg DVD place in my town for Asian films. Their movies weren’t available on these shores yet (some still aren’t and likely never will be), so I didn’t feel bad about buying them: I could discover new motion pictures I wouldn’t ever otherwise see. Further to this, they were dirt cheap; I could get 3 for 20$, which was a steal back then.
That’s where I discovered ‘Eros’. I knew nothing about it, but my attention was always caught by sexy films, having long had a penchant for Asian women. So I picked it up. It helped that I recognized its directors, Wong Kar-wai, Steven Soderbergh, and Michelangelo Antonioni, because it was less of a gamble. And so it was that I made a point of watching it soon thereafter.
I was extremely disappointed.
For starters, for a film called ‘Eros’, it wasn’t very erotic; I expected something sexier. Secondly, it was quite uneven: While the first story was emotionally potent (and somewhat erotically charged), the second was a comedy and barely had anything to do with the theme, and the third one, while it was graced by two beautiful naked Italians, left me indifferent.
However, the passage of time sometimes lends one a different perspective, so I thought I’d give it another try:
The Hand: Written and directed by Wong Kar-wai, this 43-minute short is set in Hong Kong and tells of a young tailor’s passion for one of his clients, a high-end prostitute. The picture begins with him sitting by her bedside. Clearly ailing, she asks him if he remembers the first time they met. We are then transported back in time to see how their relationship began and grew.
It’s a heartbreaking tale because he fell in love with her that first day and laboured for years to provide her with the best clothes, only to watch her get abused by her clients and sometimes even having to listen to them have sex while he waited to see her. Aside for their brief but memorable initial encounter, their relationship remained completely professional over the years.
Except that he was the only tailor she called on; he was her favourite. And he eventually tended to her as her health waned, paid her bills as her clients disappeared – leaving her destitute, and was relegated to a dingy apartment. He never stopped loving her, but had to watch her fade away, too fiercely independent was she to accept his offer of marriage. He couldn’t save her.
I loved this short. It even made me weep, so involved was I in the characters’ emotional lives. The actors were superb, completely immersed in their characters. It was even subtly erotic, without being explicit: all the sex was heard or seen in touches, coming to a boil when, after years of working with her, he took her measurements with his hands, caressing her frail body.
Equilibrium: Steven Soderbergh’s 26-minutes short is a comedy. Yes, a comedy. It begins in colour, with a dream sequence of a beautiful redhead taking a bath and dressing before leaving. Then we go to black and white and are taken to 1955, where an ad exec is speaking with a psychiatrist about his professional issues, only to be coaxed to sit on the couch and recount the details of his dream.
It turns out that it’s a recurring dream that has become a bit of a joke at home; he tells his spouse about it every day but doesn’t know what to make of it; he’s become a bit obsessed with understanding it. Except that, as he discusses all of this, the psychiatrist is looking out the window with small binoculars, then goes digging for bigger ones, and then sends someone a paper airplane.
And makes a date through the window, with gestures.
Frankly, I just sat there bemused: how could the patient not hear the psychiatrist shuffling about his office, through his various desks, open the window, …etc.? I mean, it is meant to be funny, but comedy comes from reality, and I couldn’t accept that he was so self-involved that he couldn’t hear what was going on around him. So I just sat there in silence instead of laughing.
The actors were good, mind you: Robert Downey jr., plays the ad exec in a manic mode that seemed maybe a bit too edgy for the era, but in a way that would have been credible some 30-40 years later. Good performance, wrong place for it. Alan Arkin, however, was far more credible as the psychiatrist, distracted as he was and focused on connecting with the person in the window across the way.
All in all, a good short, but particularly ill-fitting in this context. It needs to be said that Pedro Almodóvar was originally supposed to shoot his own short, but dropped out at the last minute and Soderbergh filled in. But there’s no excuse for this tonally-incompatible piece; it would have been much better to take more time to write a more appropriate script for this triptych.
The Dangerous Thread of Things: Michelangelo Antonioni’s final cinematic offering, this 32-minute short follows a couple as they bicker bitterly, admitting to the failure of their relationship but going on a road trip together through the Italian countryside anyway. Halfway through, she leaves him, so he goes off on his own and has an afternoon romp with another young woman.
Later, now that he’s left her behind to go to Paris, she goes to the beach to frolic about naked, only to find the other woman there as well, in the nude, having also frolicked on the sand. They look at each other and the short ends.
Frankly, I didn’t hate the short, I just didn’t see the point of it. It was emotionally flat, I didn’t care about the characters, the dialogues were incredibly clunky, the nudity was gratuitous (not that I mind, but it’s always better if it serves the story) and I didn’t believe any of it. It is unanimously considered the worst of the trilogy, although I think that at least it fits tonally.
So, ultimately, ‘Eros’ is a mixed bag. ‘The Hand’ was more about the power of eros on the main character than on ourselves, but at least it fits the theme. However, I don’t understand in what way ‘Equilibrium’ is pertinent. As for ‘The Dangerous Thread of Things’, it was visually stimulating, but emotional barren – so there was no heat to be found, no matter how pretty the girls were.
‘Eros’ is an experiment that failed. Nice try, though.
Date of viewing: January 5, 2016