.The high-concept project, an anthology of sorts, boasts three separate stories from three of the best directors in the world: Hong Kong master Wong Kar Wai, Hollywood golden boy Steven Soderbergh and Italian legend Michelangelo Antonioni.
And to top it off, each entry is about the cinema’s favorite obsession – sex.
Too good to be true? You’re damn right.
Only one of the three stories is a true success. The other
two fail, because – surprise, surprise – their idea of eroticism centers on undressing women. While this might seem natural enough for two heterosexual male directors, it comes off tired and a bit patriarchal.
The story that works, Wong’s “The Hand,” doesn’t indulge male fantasy. It chastises it. Viciously, too.
Wong focuses on the friendship between a high-class courtesan and her submissive tailor in 1960s Hong Kong.
The director uses the duo’s relationship to comment on the hypocrisy of patriarchy, which forces women into exploitative situations (i.e. prostitution) and then blames them for their decadence.
The story involves instances of feminine retaliation, in which the courtesan tries to divert society’s oppressive gaze, at least momentarily.
“The Hand” opens on the courtesan’s first meeting with the young tailor. She immediately strips him of any patriarchal weapons, hoping to have one less male gaze to worry about. Sensing his attraction to her (he walks into her bedroom attempting to hide his erection), she commands him to take his pants off. She then caresses him until he ejaculates.
The humiliating two minutes is one of the most intense scenes of emasculation ever filmed.
The other two stories in “Eros” seem interested in subverting traditional modes of eroticism, but in the end, both fall right into the grip of male fantasy.
While Antonioni’s ending story seems message-oriented – let’s just say, it concludes with two people hooking up, and neither is a man – the abundance of naked female breasts throughout the movie nixes any chance of a truly progressive commentary.
Soderbergh’s yarn, a humorous take on male insecurity, is a little better. In it, Robert Downey Jr. plays a neurotic man sorting out a recurring sex dream with his psychiatrist. There are some playful jabs at Freudian ideas about masculinity. But Soderbergh, like Antonioni, still can’t help coming back to images of a naked seductress.
Antonioni and Soderbergh have each made smart, provocative films about sex before (“L’Avventura” and
“Sex, Lies, and Videotape,” respectively). So it’s disheartening to learn even these two giants of cinema can regress so quickly into adolescent ogling.
At least Wong, who hasn’t made a bad film in more than a decade, keeps his pants on. With “Eros,” he delivers a minimasterpiece.