One-Trick Ponies


Turns out the French haven’t completely cornered the market on art-house hardcore—the otherwise somnolent Swedish import Under the Sun features a brief but comprehensive glimpse of horses fornicating. Thresholds are breached, motions carried, fluids discharged. A pair of tentative lovers—mulish farmer Olof (Rolf Lassgard) and his glossy thoroughbred housekeeper, Ellen (Helena Bergstrom)—observe with mingled discomfort and fascination, evoking the Tom Hanks-Sela Ward date at the stud farm in Garry Marshall’s Nothing in Common, only with an added thrust of visceral equine verité. Dig a pony. Girded, Olof and his mare steal torrid glances while baling hay and are soon bucking and neighing in their own corner of the barn as rain streams through a leak in the ceiling. They ride it hard and they put it away wet.

There’s otherwise very little friction in Under the Sun, which is set in 1956 and is exactly the kind of quotidian pastoral—about a simple, honest peasant who finds the greatest love of all—that the Academy invariably finds irresistible. (British transplant Colin Nutley’s sunshine-drunk romance was Sweden’s entry for the best foreign-language Oscar this year.) Illiterate, lonely Olof places a personal ad for a young, female “housekeeper,” and here’s the script’s idea of a Freudian slip: Meaning to ask the kindly secretary at the newspaper office when his ad will run, sweaty Olof instead splutters, “When will she come?” No worries there. Capable Ellen swiftly alights, a platinum-haired cream puff working Kim Novak’s coiffure and wardrobe from Vertigo and ready to make hay. Oversized, undersocialized Olof installs her in his dead mother’s dust-choked bedroom, but not only does the movie decline to submerge itself in the rampant Hitchcock undercurrents, it seems altogether unaware of them. Which is too bad, since the Swedish countryside here doesn’t lack for a true-blue sociopath, Erik (Johan Widerberg), a callow braggart who works for Olof as a field hand and suffers from a crypto-erotic fixation on making the lovers feel as distinctly uncomfortable as possible at all times—gyrating sans shirt, querying Ellen on the removal of corsets, dissing Olof. In fact, he’s the prankster who lures them to a window to witness the horseporn. Under the Sun disposes of its villain with an Andrea Doria joke, but didn’t he do everybody a favor?

No less stymied by displacement of desire, Thomas in Love opens with the titular computer geek enjoying cybersex with a serviceably Croftian digi-tart. The film proceeds entirely from his hot-wired perspective, as Thomas is somehow embroiled in a hooker ring for disabled clients and drawn toward two women he meets via webcam. Thomas hasn’t stepped outside his house in eight years, and Pierre-Paul Renders’s futurist, behind-the-curve stunt predictably views his agoraphobia as a universal ailment. As did Wayne Wang’s instantly dated The Center of the World, Thomas in Love dissects how human affection has been short-circuited by information-age trappings with a fusty literal-mindedness—it’s squeamish about sex but not, unfortunately, sentiment.