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Three obscure objects of desire

Renowned directors have varying levels of success in the at-times-cryptic film trio 'Eros.'

April 08, 2005|Carina Chocano | Times Staff Writer

An anthology on the subject of desire, "Eros" puts three directors to work on discrete films produced by Stephane Tchal Gadjieff, who also produced Michelangelo Antonioni's "Beyond the Clouds." Antonioni provides the final film in the troika -- a small mercy, really. The other two, directed by filmmakers who have appeared "on record," according to press notes, as having been influenced by the once-great Italian director, are also arranged in order of descending success.

The only real reason to catch "Eros" is to see Wong Kar-Wai's beautiful opening piece, "The Hand," the story of the intersecting fortunes of a young tailor and a stunning courtesan. "The Hand" is set, like Wong's exquisite "In the Mood for Love," in the Hong Kong of the 1960s and seems to capture a moment when ancient traditions found themselves suddenly steeped in modernism.

Zhang (Chang Chen) is a tailor's apprentice who is sent, on one of his first errands, to the stylish apartment of a famous beauty, Miss Hua (Gong Li). Zhang waits in her dining room as Miss Hua concludes an afternoon tryst in an adjoining room. What he hears through the walls obliges him to hold a package to his groin on entering her room; what transpires is a moment he'll never forget -- let's just say it's meant to inspire him to always make her beautiful clothes.

As Zhang becomes an accomplished tailor, Miss Hua's fortunes decline -- until she is reduced to walking the streets and living in a shabby hotel. Zhang tracks her down and maintains the illusion of her glamour and invincibility to his elderly boss.

Wong is a melancholy artist, a master of longing with an exquisite eye. Zhang's enduring devotion to Miss Hua and his helplessness before her tragedy resonate on every shimmering surface and every glittering garment. Even the wallpaper makes you want to cry.

Steven Soderbergh's "Equilibrium" is a charming, if slight, protracted gag charmingly performed by Alan Arkin and Robert Downey Jr. What it has to do with desire I have no idea -- that is, unless Soderbergh is trying to say something about the overlap between success and sex in the American mind. Downey plays Nick Penrose, a 1950s adman with the unenviable job of finding something fresh to say about alarm clocks. He's also been having a recurring dream in which a naked woman bathes in front of him, gets dressed and leaves.

The opening scene, subsequently revealed as Nick's dream, is shot in a style reminiscent of Wong -- everything in the room is a limpid blue. But the bulk of the movie transpires in the office of Dr. Pearl (Arkin), in blown-out black and white. Dr. Pearl spends most of the therapeutic hour searching for binoculars and peering out the window, while Nick enjoys a breakthrough on the couch: He invents the snooze alarm. A classic reversal follows, but by that point, I was already plenty turned around.

In the final installment, Antonioni's "The Dangerous Thread of Things," a man (Christopher Buchholz) and a woman (Regina Nemni) spend an afternoon in the countryside squabbling about nothing. They go for a hike (the woman, braless under a transparent blouse, hikes in heels) and come upon a lake of naked sylphs bathing and singing in a waterfall. At a seaside restaurant, where the woman cryptically drops her wineglass on the floor, the man glimpses a young girl (Luisa Ranieri) and follows her home. Sometime later, the women meet on the beach, where they dance naked.

Antonioni is the author of several masterpieces, including the sublime "L'Avventura" and "La Notte." His major contributions to cinema don't need the grief of sharing space on a filmography with this.



MPAA rating: R

Times guidelines: As title implies, lots of nudity and sex scenes.

Gong Li...Miss Hua

Chang Chen...Zhang Xiao

Robert Downey Jr....Nick Penrose

Alan Arkin...Dr. Pearl

Ele Keats...Dream woman

Christopher Buchholz...Christopher

Regina Nemni...Cloe

Luisa Ranieri...Linda

A Warner Independent Pictures release. Directors Wong Kar-Wai, Steven Soderbergh, Michelangelo Antonioni. Producers Stephane Tchal Gadjieff, Raphael Berdugo, Jacques Bar, Domenico Procacci. Executive producers Chan Ye-Cheng, Danielle Rosencranz. Screenplays by Wong Kar-Wai, Steven Soderbergh, Tonino Guerra. Running time: 108 minutes. In Mandarin with English subtitles, in English, and in Italian with English subtitles.

In limited release.

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