Among the assortment of extratextual things going on deep in the muddle of Eros, there’s the indulgence of the omnibus film, an idiot quasi-genre that was momentarily hot potatoes in the New Wavey-ness of the 1960s, as everybody from Godard to Pasolini to Marcel Ophüls was happily commissioned to make crazy shorts that were then packaged together into congenitally ramshackle features. Eros is unsurprisingly anomalous, given its ostensible thematic glue: the worshipful regard of all participants for co-director Michelangelo Antonioni, who is 20 years into his post-stroke period and who, it must be said, should consider resting on his laurels and, perhaps, supervising the transfers and supplements on his old movies’ DVDs.
The omnibus film usually saves its home run for the climax, but Eros begins with the best third. Wong Kar-wai’s The Hand is set in the 1960s, during the last flush of courtesan culture. A young, virginal tailor’s apprentice (Chang Chen) sees a notorious Hong Kong femme (Gong Li) for measurements, waiting for her to audibly wind up a session with a client first. Nervous and callow, he receives only taunting at first; eventually, she unzips him and gives him what might be cinema’s most romantic (offscreen) hand job. After that, our hero sweats over customized clothes only for her, and years pass, until the once glamorous, now consumptive whore takes to dock hooking, and the mature tailor, ever faithful, still struggles toward an impossible intimacy. Wong can do romantic shorthand like no one else, and The Hand is as fondue rich in iconic visions as any Dietrich-von Sternberg movie, regularly withholding focus, lighting the low-rent spaces (shot mostly in Hong Kong) as if they’re under an amber bell jar, and getting the hallways, wallpaper, and furniture to plant and sprout in the memory like objects from your own past. One shot of Gong in a mirror, recuperating and primping after a screaming match with one of the courtesan’s disenchanted sugar daddies, is the quintessence of movie love found and transmitted.
Steven Soderbergh’s Equilibrium is relatively slight and banal, but a moment-by-moment joy as Robert Downey Jr., playing a hyperactive 1950s ad exec haunted by dreams, bounces off of Alan Arkin as his distracted shrink. The atomic-clock comic timing on display is redoubtable, but what, exactly, it has to do with eros, or what either entry or filmmaker owes to Antonioni, is far from clear. The last third, The Dangerous Thread of Things, is classic rehab Antonioni, a hilariously inept and puerile “analysis” of romantic disenchantment, with three unconvincing caricatures—one dull man, two completely naked women—wandering around a coastal paradise and barking badly dubbed inanities like “How can you fill the air with those empty words?!” The master apparently has no one to tell him when the shit stinks. (The interminable sexy-pastel-sketch interludes between stories are scored to a moony Caetano Veloso ballad actually titled “Michelangelo Antonioni.”) All told, Antonioni fans should steer clear, lest their idolatry become disquieted; Wong acolytes, on the other hand, could use a fix before 2046 finally comes to town.