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Eros
[DVD]

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It is a trilogy - given the subject, perhaps it would be better to say a mnage trois - of short films dealing, sometimes obliquely, sometimes more directly, with sex. For the three filmmakers involved, Wong Kar-Wai, Steven Soderbergh and Michelangelo Antonioni, this is hardly a new area of concern.

Mr. Wong, most recently with "In the Mood for Love" and the forthcoming "2046," confects lavish, gorgeous tableaus of yearning. He has become one of contemporary cinema's great sensualists. Mr. Soderbergh, director of one of the best-known movies with the word sex in the title ("sex, lies and videotape"), has a more detached, analytical sensibility, but like Mr. Wong he often approaches the act of filmmaking itself with palpable ardor. And then there is Mr. Antonioni, now in his 90's, who reinvented the language of film eroticism while his two collaborators were still in diapers.

The producers of "Eros" conceived the project in part as an homage to Mr. Antonioni, whose name is also the title of the film's languorous theme song, performed in Italian by the Brazilian singer Caetano Veloso. The song, accompanying interstitial drawings (by Lorenzo Mattotti) that depict lovers in various postures of bliss, meditates on the paradoxical nature of love, which is described as a "useless window." Those words suit "Eros" as well; lovely though it is to look at, it does not reveal very much.

Sampling the works of three prominent directors in one sitting may be what gives anthology films like this one their appeal, but the experience is often more frustrating than fulfilling. (I leave it to you to supply the appropriate sexual metaphor). The only selection in "Eros" that works on its own terms is the first one, "The Hand" (directed by Mr. Wong), in part because it seems perfectly continuous with his other work. Like "In the Mood for Love" and "2046," "The Hand" takes place in Hong Kong in the early 1960's, a milieu of heavy rain, long corridors and beautiful silk sheath dresses.

As if to embrace his reputation as a couture fetishist, Mr. Wong has turned clothing into an explicit sexual metaphor. His hero (Chang Chen) is an apprentice tailor whose main client is an imperious call girl played by Gong Li. At their first meeting, after noting that a man in his profession without sexual experience can hardly be expected to understand how to dress a woman, she initiates him, in a scene that is erotically charged without being terribly explicit.

Working with his longtime cinematographer Christopher Doyle, Mr. Wong uses color and composition to collapse the distance between the senses. Often, you don't quite know what you are seeing, but you swear you can feel the texture and temperature of the bodies on screen.

"Equilibrium," Mr. Soderbergh's contribution, is decidedly cooler, though it shares cinematic luxuriance with "The Hand." Working with his favorite cinematographer - himself, under the pseudonym Peter Andrews - Mr. Soderbergh moves from undulating blue to rich, silvery black-and-white. The loveliness of the filmmaking, though, is almost too much for the story, an arch, hermetic joke about a 1950's advertising executive (Robert Downey Jr.) on a visit to his psychiatrist (Alan Arkin).

The actors are fun to watch and listen to, though their anxious, distracted communication could not be more distant from the wordless longing between Mr. Chang and Ms. Gong. What "The Hand" and "Equilibrium" do have in common is not desire but a fascination with how film can manipulate the experience of time. Mr. Wong's film, sliding over what does not concern the connection between his two main characters, condenses years into moments; Mr. Soderbergh, watching the clock, folds different layers of reality into a single short span.

More than anything else, it may be this concern with time that links Mr. Wong and Mr. Soderbergh with their master, Mr. Antonioni, who arguably did more to change the way moviegoers experience temporality than any other single director. His great trilogy of the 1960's - "L'Avventura," "La Notte" and "L'Eclisse" - are famously slow and elusive, their stories untethered from the conventions of beginning, middle and end.

"The Dangerous Thread of Things," his portion of "Eros," evokes those films in a way that verges on parody. A bored couple (Christopher Buchholz and Regina Nemni), living in a stone tower near a lake in Tuscany, wander through the landscape, bickering in post-synchronized Italian to the occasional accompaniment of tinny pop songs. They drive to a restaurant in their blue Maserati, and catch sight of a beautiful neighbor on horseback (Luisa Ranieri).

The man goes to visit her in her stone tower, and they exchange portentous remarks ("I hope you can handle my chaos." "What kind of chaos?" "Total chaos.") While she engages in some solitary foreplay on her bed, he stands on the roof, admiring her weathervane. Then they make love, and afterward the two women, both naked, encounter each other on the beach.

The effect is somewhere between a Mad magazine satire and a Maxim photo spread, but "The Dangerous Thread of Things" at least shows that Mr. Antonioni still has a lively eye, which he is content to train on picturesque landscapes and beautiful actresses. And why complain? As an old master, perhaps he has earned the right to be something of a dirty old man.
Date Added: 10/14/2012 by Natasha K.
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