06 January 2007

9 Songs

I was pretty skeptical about this movie after watching it, but two days later, I find myself appreciating it more and more. It's not as good as it could be, true, but it's actually a fairly impressive movie. You may have heard of it because it made waves for having extremely graphic sex scenes. This was particularly notable because the French gave it a mainstream certificate, rather than the X classification used for porn.

The movie is quite subtle - there's very little dialogue, and very little narrative. It opens with the protagonist, Matt, talking about his memories of his lover, Lisa. Matt, we are given to understand, is currently on Antarctica, studying ice. The movie sort of follows their relationship, but not really. Basically, there are 4 kinds of scenes - gorgeous shots of Antarctica, footage of rock shows, graphic sex scenes, and then a few scenes of (non-sex) interaction between Matt and Lisa. There's no real story. We learn that the pair met at a rock show, were sleeping together for maybe a year? and that Lisa moved back to the US. That's pretty much it in terms of plot. So what's the point? Hard to say. But I think that it's a kind of a reflection about the ways in which two people can both know and not know each other, how they can be extremely intimate in some ways and yet be completely blinded by their idealized fantasies of each other and their relationship. Or, to put it another way perhaps, how two people who are well nigh strangers can have extremely intimate relations. Matt and Lisa have some very intense sex, and yet, they don't seem particularly well suited to each other. Their conversations aren't particularly deep or interesting - they have this crazy sexual, and generally physical, chemistry, but nothing else. Matt acknowledges that Lisa is young, selfish, and insane - and she truly seems to be all three - and it's hard to say whether or not he really loves her. There's a scene when he runs naked into the freezing ocean just to prove his love, and yet it seems to be a move guided by the aesthetics of it, rather than a true expression of feeling. I think that the movie is subtly suggesting that this stylized version of something like love is precisely the model that rock music generally offers. But maybe that's reading too much into it.

The movie's greatest strength is its cinematography. The footage of the rock shows, in particular, is some of the best I've ever seen - handheld cameras from within the crowd that really capture what it's like to be there. The shots of Antarctica are, of course, breathtaking, and the sex scenes, while extremely graphic (there's even a money shot) are quite elegant. It's really very impressive.

Also, the film has a rather astounding poignant brevity. The dialogue is extremely sparse, and yet speaks volumes. There are these scenes where just one line speaks volumes about the character in really incredible ways. The movie is only an hour long, and there's really no story, and yet it seems to do so much. Quite remarkable.

The downside is that it is perhaps too subtle. Initially, you're sort of shocked by the graphic sex and absorbed by the rock shows, but then it starts to seem kind of monotonous and played out. Even the sex scenes get boring. Then again though, perhaps this is partly the point - it sort of mirrors their relationship, how the initial excitement slowly plays itself out. Then there are these scenes where it seems like you're going to get some deeper story, moments that seem to create a possibility of genuine intimacy, and yet they fail. It's kind of brilliant, now that I think about it. Matt's reflections, provided in the form of voice overs layered over visions of ice, could be a bit better written - they're a little too precious, at times. The language is very reminiscent of Jeanette Winterson's novels, but not quite as well done.

It's odd, I was discussing the film with the friend I saw it with, and she was saying that she felt that it would almost be more effective as literature, which I agree with, but then realize that the visual element of it is actually one of the most impressive, striking things about the movie. So it's strange. I have increasingly more respect for the film, and yet, I have this strong sense that it's lacking a certain je ne sais quoi necessary to actually be a really good movie. Quite puzzling.

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