Anthology films have never caught on. Like comic books, the audience always seems leery of the shorter structure and fearful of the mixed-bag mentality. Still, every once in a while someone tries.
The most recent is Eros, a three-part film about love directed by Wong Kar-Wai, Steven Soderbergh, and Michelangelo Anontioni--all three style heavyweights, all three favorites of mine.
Wong's "The Hand" leads the pack. Some things I had read suggested that Gong Li's character in this is the same as in 2046, but that doesn't appear to be true at first. The self-assured, successful gambler in 2046 bears only a superficial resemblance to the neurotic call girl breaking down in "The Hand." Then again, it may be that she becomes the character we meet in the other film at the end of "The Hand," when all we are told is she's finally getting a shot at success. It could also explain the glove fetish in 2046, and her refusal to divulge her past...so maybe they are the same after all.
In many Wong Kar-Wai films, people are wanting to connect and can't. Usually social mores are standing in their way, and things they intend to say go unsaid, leaving them woefully separate. In "The Hand," much of the same divisions exist between the hooker, Ms Hua, and her faithful tailor, Zhang (a barely recognizable Chen Chang, whose look here echoes Tony Leung's in 2046). Even when they do reveal their feelings, they can't go all the way: their confessions are played off with a laugh. Yet, in their first meeting, a bond is formed, and a way for them to have a connection. The "human touch" becomes more than greeting-card metaphor, it becomes a real thing. In the first meeting, Ms Hua uses her hand on Zhang, telling him he must know a woman's touch to make truly beautiful women's clothes. She becomes his muse and the great love of his life. Something passes between them every time he measures her for a new outfit. He becomes her protector, be it from eviction or the onslaught of age (oh, the subtle lies of the man with the measuring tape!). Even when they finally kiss, illness prevents it from actually being on the lips--Ms Hua's hand remains the focus of their desire.
As with all Wong Kar-Wai, the pace is leisurely, the structure loose, and the after-effects haunting beyond the construction of the plot. Thus, it's smart to follow with Soderbergh's quirkier entry. In "Equilibrium," Robert Downey Jr. plays a man who has gone to a psychiatrist to unravel a dream about infidelity and how it might relate to stress at work. Alan Arkin plays the doctor, who himself cheats on the patient, orchestrating the session so Downey can't see him, because Arkin is more fascinated by some unseen event outside his window.
Soderbergh has fun with the layers of a dream within a dream, though in some ways his dream imagery fails by lacking any sense of randomness (and having just watched Ingmar Bergman's Wild Strawberries again last night, anyone would have a lot to live up to with that dream imagery fresh in my mind). The building blocks of the dream are too convenient, but that may be Soderbergh's trick. One of those blocks is the key to the whole sequence, when we learn who the object of Downey's desire really is--and only then do we really understand where the eros is in this segment. It's an understated surprise that leaves the viewer questioning which parts were really the dream and which the reality.
Antonioni, the old master, is saved for last, and he sadly really does become the ass in the project. The less said about his piece, the better. It was as if he had forgotten what his style was like, so he sat down and watched his great movies to refresh his memory, found he didn't understand them at all, and yet copied them anyway. When the man has to resort to such a bad visual pun as a weather cock placed side by side with his male lead so we can see they have strikingly similar profiles, it's time to pack up and go home.
If you need an Antonioni fix, a much better bet is the recently released 1950 feature Story of a Love Affair. It predates his more lyrical '60s style, but it has hints of it. The film is a potboiler, about a woman with a dark past that she is worried is going to be dug up, and so she reteams with her old lover to try to keep it buried...leading them towards an even darker present and a wonderfully ironic existential ending reminiscent of Sartre's "The Wall." The young Antonioni approached genre with a aristocratic air, giving hints of the redaction of technique that was to come. Best to remember him for how he was rather than Eros.
Current Soundtrack: iTunes shuffle (Brian Jonestown Massacre, Suede, Antony & The Johnsons, The Futureheads, Spacemen 3, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, The Ordinary Boys, The Decemberists, The Smiths, The Style Council)
Current Mood: rushed
[to leave comments, click on the time-stamp below, then scroll down on the new page] – All text (c) 2005 Jamie S. Rich