Dispensing with the narrative energy provided by an overarching story places demands on the work that Eros just doesn't fulfil.
Three short films; three of the world's most celebrated directors, all in orbit around that most tantalising of subjects, eroticism. Eros promises much. But the three pieces here – think of this film as a cinematic short story collection – shot by Hong Kong's feted Wong Kar Wai, Steven Soderbergh, and Italian master Michelangelo Antonioni are a mixed bunch, at best.
None succeeds entirely – two contain some wonderful moments, and one is awful. It all means that even if you're in the mood for an 'anthology movie' – and lots of people aren't, ever – Eros fails to become more than the sum of its parts.
Unsurprisingly given the broad theme, each director gives us contrasting approaches. First up is Wong Kar Wai's The Hand, about a young tailor, Xiao Zhang (Chang Chen), and his obsessive love for an unattainable Hong Kong courtesan, Hua (Gong Li).
This is the strongest piece on offer: commissioned, year after year, to make the dresses Hua will use to seduce other men, Zhang watches the object of his affection sink into penury as her beauty declines, and we witness the slow – sometimes a little too slow – and artful unfolding of a small, affecting tragedy. What's more, set in the '30s, the story takes place against a sumptuous period backdrop, brilliantly realised by Kar Wai.
That's a start that sets the zinging, high verbal comedy of Soderbergh's Equilibrium in stark relief. Robert Downey Jr plays a stressed out '50s ad exec visiting a psychiatrist (Alan Arkin) to discuss a recurring erotic dream. Much of the entertainment derives from a series of well-orchestrated visual jokes based on Arkin's determination to attract the attention of a passer-by while pretending that he is listening to his client.
Meanwhile, Downey Jr's scattergun, neurotic monologuing and the black and white cinematography create the stylised, noirish atmosphere that counterpoints these high-jinks. It all makes for some perfect, laugh-out-loud moments. But attempts to draw significance from Downey Jr's dream are opaque, and irritating, because we can't help feeling that opacity is hiding precisely nothing.
Speaking of which, last up is Michelangelo Antonioni's The Dangerous Thread of Things. In it, we follow an Italian couple; unhappily married and touring their country, they speak to each other only in prefabricated epithets: "Isn't it funny, you talk so much about purity but always end up covered in shit," says Christopher (Christopher Buchhholz) when Cloe (Regina Nemni) gets mud on her feet.
Soon, Christopher encounters a pretty young girl at a restaurant. Their subsequent coupling is imbued with an absurd importance by a lilting soundtrack and more leaden dialogue: "My name is Linda," the girl says, ominously, after the act. She is met by a meaningful silence.
Next, and inexplicably, Cloe and Linda meet on a beach and wordlessly perform a kind of freeform, interpretative dance. What does that mean? It's a fitting end to a ponderous, self-important 30 minutes unworthy of one of cinema's most influential directors, now 94 years old.
The failure of the last story strikes, really, at the heart of the problem with this movie. Dispensing, as any anthology movie does, with the narrative energy provided by an overarching story places demands on the work that Eros just doesn't fulfil. Its localised joys – Downey Jr's comic timing, Kar Wai's understated melancholy – are too few and far between, and aren't enough to make a pleasurable, or even coherent, global experience out of these three stories.
Obsessive followers of Kar Wai, Soderbergh and Antonioni have a curio to put among their collection. Everyone else will soon forget Eros.
Three of the world's great directors.
A few sparkling moments are overshadowed by narratives that often plod.
An experimental curio.