For a film that was made in 2004, it’s taken a long time for Eros to get a release in the UK. Artificial Eye has come on board as distributor but, with the abundance of talent here, one wonders why no one in this country had decided to distribute it until now. It’s certainly considered by some a borderline art-house/commercial film and that may have added to the delay in getting a backer. In the States, it was picked up by the independent wing of Warner Brothers (and is now on DVD there). Otherwise, it’s come as slight relief that it finally has a release in the UK, exactly two years on from its screening at Venice 2004.

After working with Michelangelo Antonioni for his last film Beyond The Clouds, producer Stephane Tchal Gadjieff stayed friendly with the director and wanted to honour his wish to continue making films, despite having recently suffered a paralytic stroke. It was Tchal Gadjieff who came up with the idea for a triptych with Eros as the common theme. In this we see that the completed film is something of a tribute to Antonioni as Kar Wai and Soderbergh were specifically asked because they have gone on record as saying that Antonioni was an influence on them.

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The idea of such a triptych of stories by three renowned directors (two contemporary and one legendary) seems a treat, but then experience also makes us exercise caution (think of New York Stories). Certainly in the case of Michelangelo Antonioni, there’s a feeling of concern as to whether, at this late stage in his life, he can be responsible alone for anything worthwhile, let alone a critical success. His film is the last of the three here, and is arguably the weakest, which is something of a disappointment because the disciples seem to have overshadowed the leader. In real terms, I think it’s fair to say that 1982’s Identification Of A Woman was the last bona fide complete Antonioni film as it was the last one he made where he was fully in control. I feel the touristy shorts he made after that should have been for private home-use only and in the intervening feature Beyond The Clouds it’s difficult to know how much of a signature he had on the final film, being that Wim Wenders basically finished it for him.

Seemingly playing it safe, the triptych begins with Wong Kar Wai and his film The Hand. Instantly we are in the territory of In the Mood for Love (set in 1962) because it takes us back to the same era of the 1960’s (1963) and the sexual attitudes of the day against a backdrop of impossible love. Indeed, if this was a feature, it could be interpreted as In the Mood for Love Part II. That film, which cemented Kar Wai’s reputation as a unique director, also took the theme of Eros, so there’s a natural continuation here. Certainly, the film looks sumptuous with all its period detail and costumes, but why Kar Wai chooses the early 60’s and not the present is intriguing. The Hand tells of a young tailor (Chang Chen)'s unrequited love for a high-class Hong Kong call-girl over a lengthy period. The Eros factor here comes in the clothes he lovingly designs for her that she wears for other men. Over the film, her status diminishes while his prospers, but there is a very good twist near the end. Of the three, The Hand is the most admirable, even if comparisons to In the Mood for Love slightly take the shine off.

Equilibrium is perhaps the most enjoyable of the three and the most accessible. Again, it is set in another era, this time the 1950s, and is filmed mainly in black and white. Robert Downey Junior plays a happily married but stressed advertising man who is suffering from recurring erotic dreams. During a session with his psychiatrist Dr. Pearl (Alan Arkin), he describes a woman who is familiar to him but whom he can never recall upon waking. Steven Soderbergh’s film is a lot of fun and has two brilliant performances by the leads. When we find out the true nature of Arkin’s character, it seems a strange distraction that there is a sub-narrative taking place in which information is withheld from us. If this is meant to be Downey’s state of mind, it doesn’t appear to be something he can see, yet the audience is allowed to. These intriguing little sub-narratives that Soderbergh provides are playful fun and keep our attention in what is mainly a film that takes place in a psychiatrist’s room one afternoon. Equilibrium, therefore, could easily be done as a play and it would also be a lot of fun if it produced performances from actors of the calibre of Alan Arkin and Robert Downey Jr.

Antonioni’s short film here is called The Dangerous Thread Of Things. It celebrates eroticism while acknowledging all the pain and suffering that can be caused by it. A couple (Christopher Buchholz and Regina Nemni) are approaching middle age and a relationship crisis. The man soon has a random encounter with a free-spirited young woman, but he finds their brief liaison unsatisfying. Some months later, by chance and coincidence, the wife and the young woman will meet.

Antonioni has taken the theme of eroticism and the ménage-a-trois scenario to produce something that comes across as a well-made short by a young director. It almost feels like the film he would make if he was starting out now, depicting alienation, even in the most beautiful places, and how modernism has affected interpersonal relationships. Indeed, if Antonioni is experimenting with film now, like an enthusiastic student, then this is perhaps an appropriate way to view the films he makes. He has nothing to prove, so he’s doing it for fun. Instead of going out on a high, he’s gone back to the beginning again, gone full circle. Like TS Eliot wrote in Little Gidding: “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

Reviewed on: 29 Sep 2006
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Eros packshot
Three short films about Eros.
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Director: Michelangelo Antonioni, Steven Soderbergh, Wong Kar-wai

Writer: Michelangelo Antonioni, Tonino Guerra, Steven Soderbergh, Wong Kar-wai

Starring: Gong Li, Chang Chen, Robert Downey Jr, Alan Arkin, Ele Keats, Christopher Buchholz, Regina Nemni and Luisa Ranieri

Year: 2004

Runtime: 120 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Italy

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