Designed to be a showcase for a new short erotic work by the still active 89 year-old Michelangelo Antonioni, Eros was created to bring together similarly themed films by a couple of other great international directors influenced to some degree by master of Italian cinema - Wong Kar-Wai and Pedro Almódovar. Almódovar however was forced to withdraw from the project - officially in order to meet commitments to finish La Mala Educación, although it seems that the content of his script was not approved by the Chinese producers of the film - and Steven Soderbergh took over the responsibility of delivering the third segment. By chance then, the film presents an intriguing look at the nature of eroticism from an Asian, an American and a European viewpoint.
The Hand - Wong Kar-Wai
While making a delivery of new costumes, a young tailor’s apprentice Xiao Zhang (Chang Chen) is introduced to the pleasures of the flesh at the hand of a beautiful courtesan, Miss Hua (Gong Li - magnificent). The young man finds inspiration in his obsession with Miss Hua and continues to make deliveries of her expensive handmade dresses. The courtesan however is conducting an affair with Mr Zhao, and starts to put off paying clients for this worthless man. Zhang witnesses the slow disintegration of this beautiful and exotic woman he has come to love.
Working very much in a style similar to his masterworks In The Mood For Love and 2046, Wong Kar-Wai’s contribution to Eros is clearly the stand-out episode of the three short films included here. The Hand is set in the same period as those earlier films, in 1960’s Hong Kong, with similar hotel locations, small rooms and narrow corridors, all decorated with period objects, meticulously coloured, lit and photographed by Christopher Doyle and set to an exquisite musical score. Even the character types and their mannerisms are very familiar by now, the unattainable object of desire between a man and a woman, the erotic tension expressed in the smallest of details and gestures, looks and expressions. Even though all these elements are familiar and employed elsewhere in his films, with the slightest of tweaks Wong Kar-Wai subtly changes the emphasis of the material towards the erotic, again showing himself to be the master of expressing the finer nuances of the emotions surrounding love and desire. If the film has any weakness, it is that the shorter length of the film compresses the time period and changing emotions that would be better suited to feature length and risks pushing Wong’s characteristic understatement over into overwrought melodrama.
Equilibrium - Steven Soderbergh
Nick Penrose (Robert Downey Jr.), a stressed out alarm-clock salesman in 1950’s New York, is having a recurrent erotic dream about a red-headed woman in a blue room. He visits a psychiatrist to find out what it all means and also to find out how to not wake up so soon before the dream ends. The psychiatrist Dr. Pearl (Alan Arkin), while listening to Penrose’s account of his dream, is also busy with something that has attracted his attention outside his window.
Apart from the attraction of the verbal sparring between Alan Arkin and Robert Downey Jr., there is little else to recommend in Soderbergh’s segment of Eros, almost all of it filmed noir style in black and white in a window-blind shaded psychiatrist’s room, though its take on eroticism is unique to say the least.
The Dangerous Thread of Things - Michelangelo Antonioni
A couple, Christopher and Chloe (Christopher Buchholz and Regina Nemni) are going through a difficult period in their relationship, which is lacking fire and erotic desire. The man finds that attraction and desire again in a young woman, Linda (Luisa Ranieri), who lives in a tower at the other side of the lake, but the freeing of those desires liberates each of the people involved in different ways that have unexpected consequences.
In contrast to the Asian passions of The Hand and the American psychoanalytic approach of Soderbergh, both of which to some extent sublimate erotic tension into gestures and creativity, Antonioni’s segment takes a wider European approach, taking eroticism away from just the body – although there is plenty of that seen in The Dangerous Thread of Things - and into the wider context of the world. With Antonioni the emotional content is equally within the beach and the lake and the tower as it is in the little gestures or body parts (specifically women with Antonioni obviously), that the camera zooms in to observe - the eroticism of these objects a further extension of the natural way of things. In this way frustration is objectified in the rolling of a glass on the ground, desire for a woman is a huge fortified tower, and anger is contained within the sharp corridor of tree branches which hook onto the clothes of the two characters carrying out an argument. As such, it is a perfect continuation and exploration of all things Antonionian, lacking only in the performances that show no imagination, delivering unnecessarily expository English dialogue in bad accents and some embarrassingly banal scenes of nudity and sex.
The Hong Kong edition of Eros is available in a Special 2-disc edition, slipcased and containing a set of 3 postcards (YesAsia also have a Limited Edition with an additional 12 postcards). The disc is region free. Optional English subtitles are included for all films, although both the Soderbergh and Antonioni films are English language. The extra features are also fully subtitled in English.
The video quality is reasonably good for all three films with no real dustspot marks or macro-blocking artefacts, but there are a few niggles that prevent any of them looking perfect. The Hand is the most obviously attractive film, looking lush and colourful, and this comes across well here. In places it looks light or underexposed and in others the colours are fully saturated, but considering this kind of light and colour manipulation is characteristic of cinematographer Christopher Doyle, it’s hard to judge just how accurately this has been transferred. The colour framing sections of Equilibrium look strikingly good, but most of the film is black and white. This is clear and sharp with good tones, although overly bright objects tend to glare and cause haloes. The Dangerous Thread of Things, also looks fine, although skin tones look a little smeary and lacking in detail, with possibly some cross colouration issues. What are evident throughout the whole transfer are signs of combing or interlacing, which means that the image tends to blur slightly and lose sharpness during on screen movement of camera or characters. It’s not that noticeable, particularly in normal playback, but it is quite clear when examined in freeze-frame.
A choice of audio-tracks present the films in Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1. The DTS track seems to have a slight edge, though the difference is not considerable for a film like this. Both mixes in the main present dialogue clearly and music warmly, although Gong Li’s dialogue is sometimes strangely faint, exhibiting a fair amount of background hiss. For all the films the soundtrack is front and centre based with most of the use of rear speakers coming from the music score, and that is only really evident in the Antonioni segment. The soundtrack is in the original languages of the films – Mandarin for The Hand, English for the other two.
English subtitles are optional, white font. They subtitle all the films, not just the non-English speaking segment, but you can manually switch them off after The Hand if not required. The translation is fine without any errors of grammar or spelling.
Extras Disc 1
A very short trailer nevertheless captures well the content and passions of the film.
Text information provides a Synopsis of each of the films, without spoilers, and principal Cast and Crew listings in both English and Chinese. The same text is on the back of the DVD case.
Extras Disc 2
Inspiration of Eros – Wong Kar-Wai (10:18)
Wong Kar-Wai talks about how he was invited to become involved in the project, how The Hand was meant to be set in Shanghai in the 1930s, his use of actors, the different approaches to the subject by the different directors and how The Hand fits into the film.
The Whole Life of a Woman in 40 Minutes – Gong Li (10:59)
Gong Li speaks about the experience of working with Wong Kar-Wai, her approach to her character and how she worked with Chang Chen.
Wong Kar-Wai, A Stranger to a Mentor – Chang Chen (10:24)
Chang Chen covers the same areas as Gong Li from his perspective.
Japanese Trailer (2:19)
A longer Japanese trailer blends all the films together.
Photo Gallery (3:20)
The slideshow photo gallery shows a number of promotional stills as well as the directors working on-set. If you’ve got this far in the extra features and aren’t sick to death of the Caetano Veloso theme music which will have been played constantly and loudly throughout the previous half hour – beautiful though it is - then you’ve more tolerance than I.
Eros brings together three very different perspectives on love, attraction and erotic desire from three important directors. Wong Kar-Wai’s Asian outlook is sensuously tactile, passionate and sublimated, Soderbergh’s American approach, perhaps unsurprisingly sees eroticism as the inspiration for innovation and enterprise, while Antonioni’s film sees a broader, freer European take on the subject, the eroticism expressed beyond the confines of the characters into the world around them. Although the different perspectives on the subject are interesting and compliment each other well in their variety, only one of the films is truly successful as a short film – Wong Kar-Wai’s The Hand is as close to perfection as it is possible to achieve in terms of theme, content, performance and treatment. It alone makes this nicely presented set worthwhile.