Tuesday, June 7, 2011

8 1/2 WOMEN

Peter Greenaway, 1999
Starring: John Standing, Matthew Delamere, Vivian Wu, Annie Shizuka Inoh, Barbara Sarafian, Toni Colette, Amanda Plummer, Polly Walker

Filthy rich businessman Philip Emmenthal (John Standing) has recently lost his wife. He and his son Storey (the likable Matthew Delamere) hole up in the family mansion to deal with their grief. On the way they pick up eight and a half women to distract them with every pleasure and vice imaginable: a repressed nun, a woman obsessed with getting pregnant, a power mad accountant, a gambling addict, a lady in love with farm animals, as well as the titular "half" woman, who is a double amputee. Obviously this sort of situation can only carry on for so long and is soon tipped over the edge by the selfish Palmira (Rome's Polly Walker). Philip falls in love with her and she soon pushes him into a monogamous, financially draining relationship.

I suppose it had to happen eventually that I would see a Peter Greenaway film I wasn't head over heels in love with. My intensely passionate feelings for A Zed and Two Noughts, The Draughtsman's Contract, The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover and even The Pillow Book are just not echoed in this later, somewhat lackluster Greenaway effort. With that said, I did like the film and recommend it, though only to other Greenaway fans.

8 1/2 Women follows the formula of many of Greenaway's films. It's a dark comedy rich with visual symbolism and full of plenty of eccentric and surreal elements. Overall though, it is a routine, boring treatment of taboo and death. The powerful statements A Zed and Two Noughts makes about sex, love, and grief is only weakly echoed here. Though I was reasonably entertained and happy to see another Greenaway film, it just doesn't have the same impact as his earlier works. It's difficult to like or get attached to any of the characters, but if you don't expect much, you might be pleasantly surprised. 

Bizarre and challenging, 8 1/2 Women's biggest fault is that it is unfocused and ultimately putters out with little drama or character development. You should also be forewarned that though it's essentially a film about two men running their own private brothel, there is surprisingly little sex, eroticism, or nudity. I rented it, but should you feel brave enough, buy it here. Greenaway completists will definitely want to check this out, but newbies should steer clear for the time being. 

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