Michael Winterbottom has the charged air of a Rimbaudian decadent—he’s hell-bent on trying everything once, and if he gives up filmmaking to traverse Antarctica or sculpt earthworks, we shouldn’t be shocked. What makes this hungry hopscotching fascinating is a sense of moral anchorage that has bled out of each film since Jude (1996). Having modernized Hardy, rectified the war
journalist paradigm, carved up the Euro–melting pot, reacquainted us with the front row of pop music history, traveled the refugee trail of tears, and DNA’d
Alphaville, Winterbottom now turns inward, to the sweaty chemicals between us. Barely a movie, 9 Songs is closer to a feature-length Su Friedrich rumination, or a channel toggle between Fuse and amateur porn. Both structuralist and transgressive in the time-honored manner of avant-garde cinema, the film isn’t ostentatiously postmod, but is instead focused, like a New Wave idyll, on the intimate hang time and private buzz of contemporary sex-love.
Or maybe not: 9 Songs is so simple you could hold it up to different lights and get different spectra. The titular tunes are live concert roars by the Von Bondies, Franz Ferdinand, the Dandy Warhols, etc. Between them, a thirtyish Brit man (Kieran O’Brien) and a reedy, Maggie Gyllenhaal–esque American girl (Margo Stilley) fuck, suck, make coffee, lounge, and
fuck and suck some more. That’s it—but in the process, naturally, the relationship rises on a crest of lust, levels out in recreational contentment (the couple attend the concerts and begin to do dope), and then descends into an unexplained funk, potently limned in a scene where Stilley’s whimsical gamine opts for a vibrator alone rather than her partner and his Ron Jeremy–sized wanker.
Shot in gritty, handheld DV, the movie becomes
about its own strange dullness and our mutual distance—the more sex the characters have, the more we stand outside their satisfying delirium, and that goes for the concert experiences as well. We know little about the lovers, and their dialogue is thoughtless and trivial. Implicit in the fugue is a critique of associative movie watching; Winterbottom never provides the empathic connective tissue we expect. Love it or not, 9 Songs amounts to a common human rite fastidiously caught in amber, giving off no heat or joy but crystallized for the future.