When a usually resplendent director goes off the deep end with an experiment that is controversial in terms of both its artistic merits and its social worth, it's at least interesting no matter where you fall in the debate.
When Michael Winterbottom came on the scene 10 years ago with his first major features, he was hailed as one of the brightest lights in Britain's new generation, the inheritor of that country's Angry Young Man tradition. His films have ranged from the brilliantly comic 24 Hour Party People to the wonderfully mournful Welcome to Sarajevo and Jude. His last idea for an experimental film was to shoot a handheld quasi-reality tale of a Pakistani making an illicit journey across Europe, trying to make it to England.
That's the long way of saying that his latest film has sexual content on the level of a XXX flick. Although there's a plot and the graphic sex isn't depicted for prurient reasons, it's still basically nine long shots of a couple having sex, with close-ups on all the parts doing all the things that they do. Rather than qualifying as pornography, however, it's more like a fictionalized sex manual mixed with a concert film. That's a lot more boring than porn, actually, and almost completely unwatchable. It's not the fact that people are having real sex on screen that's so disturbing (although that has the potential to irritate quite a few people in this country), it's that they're just having sex. There's no emotional weight to the acts, no drama, no mystery, no heart.
If Winterbottom has a cinematic point to make with the graphic nature of his sex shots, then he doesn't get it across. He's got only the weakest thread of a languid narrative going through the film, about the relationship of a wispy young American named Lisa (Margo Stilley) and a sedate older Brit named Matt (Kieran O'Brien). They talk to each other very little and their interactions are only defined by their time in bed (or the kitchen, or wherever else they hook up). In between their encounters, there are some musical interludes that involve some of the bands that came through London at the time they were filming, like Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, the Von Bondies, Elbow, Primal Scream and the Dandy Warhols.
For hipsters, the music will be the best part. Everyone else watching will just sit there and wait for it to be over '- that is, if they can even sit through it.
iVillage Mood Meter: Hopefully this will be the only time you pray for sex to be over
Stars: Kieran O'Brien, Margo Stilley
Director/screenwriter: Michael Winterbottom
Producers: Andrew Eaton, Michael Winterbottom
Release date: July 22, 2005, limited
Distributor: Tartan Films