Eros is a collection of three short films on the eponymous subject, created as a tribute to the veteran director Michelangelo Antonioni, whose film The Dangerous Thread of Things is the concluding work.
The opening segment, by director Wong Kar Wai (In the Mood for Love), is the most fully realized of the three in terms of narrative, characterization, and a genuine evocation of the erotic. He tells the fable-like story of a tailor, Zhang (Chang Chen), who is called upon to create garments for Miss Hua (Gong Li), an imperious courtesan. When they first meet, he has been aroused by the sounds of her lovemaking with one of her clients. Noticing this, she plays upon the asset of her allure and his desire in order, she says, to inspire him to make her elegant clothes. Her beauty and sexual magnetism captivate Zhang, desire only compounded by her cool aloofness.
Over the years, Zhang does, indeed, create a beautiful wardrobe for Miss Hua. As his art grows, her life goes into inevitable decline. There is no further sexual contact between them, but Zhang nonetheless remains entranced, containing his desire since Mis Hua never signifies further sexual interest in him. Finally, in the direst of straights, Miss Hua expresses her gratitude to Zhang in the currency which has been her livelihood.
As in the best short stories, The Hand establishes character and motivation swiftly and with skilled economy. Finely focused throughout and brilliantly realized in the performances of Chang (Crouching Tiger) and Gong Li (Farewell My Concubine), Wong masterfully creates a sense of profound yearning–the screen seems saturated with unfulfilled and unrequited erotic longing. What doesn’t happen in The Hand is far more erotic that what does. Filmed in moody saturated blues and darkly lit, The Hand is a small gem by a director in complete control of his extraordianry art.
Steven Soderbergh’s contribution to Eros, Equilibrium, is a slight affair in which Dr. Pearl, a psychiatrist (Alan Arkin), is treating a client, Nick Penrose (Robert Downey, Jr.), an advertising executive who has been having erotic dreams about a glamorous woman who is not his wife. There’s a strong element of voyeurism in Penrose’s dream. Even as he tells Pearl about his dream, Pearl, behind Penrose’s back, is looking out of his office window through binoculars, perhaps unconsciously reflecting the voyeurism of his client. He throws paper airplanes from the window, presumably towards the object of his desire.
The spoofing of the therapist is mildly amusing, but there’s less to this little exercise than meets the eye. Next to Zhang’s rich tapestry, Soderbergh’s Equilibrium is a thin sketch, a toss-off lacking any genuine sense of Eros.
Finally, the Antonioni entry is a sadly dated expression by a director who, in his prime, entranced with his abstracted and intriguingly ambiguous dramas of the 1960’s–memorable works such as L’Avventura, La Notte, and The Eclipse. In The Dangerous Thread of Things, a husband and wife are shown at odds with one another; the husband is drawn to another woman where mystery and passion are still fresh. There is a suggestion that the two women are aspects of one, the classic apposition of the wife and the whore. The film is a leaden mess with sullen performances and heavy-handed symbolism; it seems like Antonioni satirizing his own style. Despite using the most overtly sexual imagery of these three short films, The Dangerous Thread of Things is devoid of any genuine eroticism; it could have used one of those little blue pills.