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Soderbergh’s “Equilibrium”

From Antonioni’s “The Dangerous Thread of Things”

Wong Kar-wai's "The Hand"

By Lee Gardner | Posted 3/8/2006

THE MOVIE A couple of things you don’t see much of on cineplex screens these days: 1) grand musings on the nature of love and sex and passion, and 2) anthology movies. Perhaps it’s not so surprising that 2004 anthology movie Eros went more or less straight to DVD in the U.S., despite the fact that contributing directors Wong Kar-wai, Steven Soderbergh, and Michelangelo Antonioni are bankable names on what’s left of the domestic art-house circuit. After all, distributors and exhibitors watch movies, too. Despite the all-star auteur lineup, Eros is as hit and miss as any l’amour fou or anthology flick.

If nothing else, Eros is worth seeing for the opening oxymoron: a short film by Wong. “The Hand” tells the story of tailor’s apprentice Zhang (Chang Chen) in 1960s Hong Kong assigned to custom-make gorgeous frocks for regal kept woman/prostitute Miss Hua (diva Gong Li); on their first meeting, she—how to put this—uses something other than a handshake to inaugurate their new intimate-yet-platonic relationship. Already working with familiar material (peeling old Hong Kong apartments, buttoned-down dandies, tragic femmes), the director risks self-parody as Zhang pines stoically and Hua spirals downward in classic Wong fashion, but the time constraint (about 40 minutes per film) keeps him from the sprawl that diluted 2046. The result is something like Wong demi-glace: condensed, rich, piquant, almost overpowering.

Eros pretty much shoots its bolt with “The Hand.” Soderbergh’s “Equilibrium” follows Darrin Stevens-style ’50s ad man Robert Downey Jr. down a rabbit hole of recurring dreams, inchoate desires (the girl of his dreams is usually nude), and on-the-job pressures in the office of distractable psychiatrist Alan Arkin. Shot largely in luscious black and white and enlivened somewhat by Arkin’s comedic skills, it can’t overcome the kind of self-reflexive eyewash and self-conscious zaniness more often found in student shorts.

Antonioni’s “The Dangerous Thread of Things” comes closest to the Skinemax vibe implied by the anthology’s title. Which is to say the two comely upper-class Italian ladies involved (Regina Nemni and Luisa Ranieri) spend a lot of time naked, or nearly so, for no good reason. The thready plot involves some upper-class beefcake (Christopher Buchholz) trading one of the women for the other, but mostly Antonioni spends his screen time on beautiful scenery, beautiful skin, and some banal dialogue. Therefore it’s a shock when he comes up with something like a point at the literal last minute.

THE DISC: The bells and whistles are typically skimpy for straight-to-DVD art-house fare: just the trailer and the 15-minute Antonioni-directed short Michelangelo Eye to Eye, which finds the director contemplating the exquisite nooks and crannies of Renaissance marbles by the other Michelangelo—a trifle, but a lovely one.

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