Thursday, February 17, 2005

Michael Winterbottom

"L'Amour physique est sans issue" Posted by Hello

A couple of weeks ago I took the Russkaya to a cinephile movietheatre in calle Princesa to see "Nine Songs" by Michael Winterbottom. During its first screening at the Cannes film festival it was described as the most sexually explicit British film presented there containing unsimulated sex scenes with fellatio, ejaculation, and cunnilingus appearing on the screen. I had read some reviews and comments from the Director beforehand so I had adapted my viewing mode accordingly. I armed myself with the kind of cold, intellectualized, high-culture glasses one uses to see relevant contemporary art. Most of the times it won't be either a aesthetically satisfactory experience or a necessarily pleasant emotional experience but, then again, if you can see the point the artist is trying to make and if that point seems in resonance with one's curiosity and awareness of the world around, that will be good enough. From that somewhat minimalist viewpoint, "Nine Songs" did the trick. I can see Michael Winterbottom's point. Why can a writer engage in sexual imagery with no restrictions and a film author cannot do the same? There is also, I think, a honest experimental tone in all the film. Something like "Let's see if it works to ask the actors to go all the way. Let's see if we can stay inside serious film making and not cross the line, not adding an item to the already increasingly inflated porn film list." I think MW managed to sail through. Yes, it can be done (but, at what a price for the actors, it reamins to be seen); yes, it's definitely miles away from porn. But, as to if this incursion into real sex in the picture is as effective as explicit sex in literature, I'm afraid that MW is no Houellebecq. Sex in the daring novels of Michel Houllebecq retain a kind of legitimacy because at the center of the plot there is a couple where love between two people is expressing itself (although fed by some rather non-conventional sexual behavior). Sex in Sade or in other libertine writers was deliberately taboo-breaking and liberating in a way. The extremely good quality of the writing (both in Houellebecq and Sade) is a crucial element in allowing the authors who engage in such edgy fields to get away with it. In "Nine Songs" the couple fails to touch us, there is no love there (not even the good chemistry of sexual love), and the "writing" in film terms is not that impressive. It resembles more a documentary, which in fact it is ("How to introduce explicit live sex in mainstream cinema"). We end up leaving the screening room with the frustrating sense that an opportunity was lost. Like a piece of rather cold contemporary art, it challenges you, it makes you engage in argument with your friends, it might make you wish to post a blog about it. But we want to enjoy good cinema, and not merely to relate to it. Enjoyment is not there.

(Only six of us in the cinema room, and a member of the staff, with the help of a small stool, felt free to change a light bulb in the aisle, while the screening was taking place..)

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