Run time: 104 mins
In Theaters: Friday 3rd December 2004
Production compaines: Jet Tone Films, IPSO Facto Films, Roissy Films, Solaris Film, Citel Films, Fandango, Delux Productions
Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5
IMDB: 6.0 / 10
Wong Kar Wai's bluntly titled "The Hand" and set in his recurring milieu of early '60s Hong Kong, follows Zhang (Chang Chen), a humble tailor's apprentice, over his years-long infatuation with a beautiful socialite-turned-prostitute, Miss Hua (Gong Li). Kar Wai's treatment is aesthetically fussy, in keeping with his well-known style, but dramatically bland. There simply isn't much at stake here as the timorous Zhang must be content with the, ahem, hand jobs (see title) he receives all too rarely from the object of his infatuation. Now, hand job scenes (even in non-porno cinema) can be extremely erotic because of what they offer and what they only tease at (for a convincer, see the relevant scene in Michael Heneke's otherwise awful The Piano Teacher. Wow!). In any case, the segment's manually operated pseudo-erotica provide the only spike in an otherwise indolent story that never substantially conveys its central concern: Zhang's steady sexual awakening and his unshakeable devotion to an unavailable woman. Still, Kar Wai's fabulously crafted sound and imagery are both par for the course for this director and his world-class cinematographer, Christopher Doyle.
The most confoundingly horrendous short comes courtesy of veteran auteur (and 90-plus-year-old) Antonioni. Watching his "Il filo pericoloso delle cose," about the breakdown of the marriage between bickering, sexually frigid Christopher and Cloe (Christopher Buchholz and Regina Nemni), I thought Antonioni had finally lost it. Into the couple's marital ennui chances a sexual interloper -- Linda (Luisa Ranieri), a raven-haired and absolutely luscious "wild child." Linda is the story's dialectic female -- the opposite of the scowling, flat chested Cloe. One by one, in separate trysts, Linda re-ignites desire into these emotionally disconnected individuals. This could've made for lusty and absorbing storytelling if it weren't so ridiculous in its execution: The women's nude frolic along a beach, for instance, is conveyed with such cheeky '60s artiness that it feels like a horrific spoof of a spoof, and one that Antonioni, owing to his age and fogginess perhaps, is wholly unaware of. This is cringe-inducing stuff, and I found myself hoping it would just end before its director and actors embarrassed themselves any further.
Though the least erotic, Eros' choicest moments come through in Soderbergh's comedic, 1950s setpiece "Equilibrium." For his piece, the director chose a luminously stark black-and-white palette, crisscrossed with light and shadow. "Equilibrium" involves a stressed-out clock company executive, Nick (Robert Downey Jr.), who checks into therapy (or maybe he's just dreaming he's in therapy?) and relating an erotic (sort of) dream he's had about a mystery woman. The patter between Nick and his therapist, Dr. Pearl (Alan Arkin), concerning details of his dream and how it wells up within Nick feelings of guilt and rebellion are the short's least interesting aspects. What keeps our attention is Dr. Pearl's comic shenanigans. Bored by Nick's prattling, he furtively and desperately tries to hail down the attention of someone (a mystery woman of his own?) across the street while his patient jabbers, flat on his back on the therapist couch. Arkin's comic genius is on display here: He times his actions and dialogue alongside Downey with a vaudevillian's precision. The actors' rapport, together with how Soderbergh's rigorous style and staging contrasts with the low-key antics unfolding on-screen, is reminiscent of Billy Wilder's smart '50s comedies. Soderbergh doesn't follow the Eros assignment line-by-line, except in the most cerebral and elliptical sense, but it's head-and-shoulders above its accompanying shorts and quite entertaining.
If you want to get a taste of these three filmmakers' best work, stay away from the pretentious, conceptually strained Eros. While it has flashes of directorial verve, it's a debacle from filmmakers whose real potential lies elsewhere, in far better material.