8 1/2 WOMEN

DIRECTED BY Peter Greenaway

England 1999



It is always difficult to try and review or explain any film that Peter Greenaway has made. Not that I, or anyone else, would know any better, I think!

There is, however, a line in the film, that kinda gives away what this film might just be about ... when the father asks while watching Fellini's 8 1/2 film ... "How many film directors make films to satisfy their sexual fantasies?" ... and his son replies ... "Most of them". So, after all this, it won't matter what we think, since it won't matter. Right? Now turn it around  .... how many people go see films to support their own (sexual/sensual???) fantasies?

While this may be true, it would be rather pathetic, if Fellini's films were erotic fantasies, as most of them were ludicrous and for the most part satirical and totally disrespectful of some of the way some women came off, as silly, bizarre, over blown beauties full of make up, and the like. That would not be, exactly a "fantasy" at all, that would be a dislike, more than likely. Well, then there is Bergman, and his fascination with the women in his later films, and their "minds". They get ALL the attention and camera! I'm not sure that is a "fantasy", either. Roeg ... as shown in "Performance" and then cleared up in "Bad Timing", this was less about a "fantasy" than it was about ... one's desire. I want to be there kinda thing!

Peter Greenaway, for many years in almost all of his films, has completely done away with any kind of blushing and ideas, in regards to nudity. And, if there is any compulsion or comment to be made about that, it is that we, as a society, are totally afraid of it, and on top of it, create ideas and games, that destroy the human ability to love and appreciate one of the best things in life. However, in this film, this is a sort of "look" at that kind of living, and the old man, has just lost his wife, and he is in many ways, questioning her ways, and privacy within their own rooms. His son, runs a bunch of "pachinko" parlors in Japan and comes over to their place in Switzerland, where eventually they put together 8 and a half women for their own pleasures. The half is for a woman who is an amputee.

While there is no outward and direct sex in the film, there are a few moments, specially towards the end, where discretion is seen. In previous films, it was not a problem, as we see Helen Mirren, enjoy her time in one film, and on many others, the suggestion of out in the open sex is implied quite strongly, and in many ways, both us the audience and one of the characters seems to not like or appreciate the whole thing, or what might be considered an abuse of their privacy.

Unlike Hollywood, whose tendency is to create a "peephole" kind of sex, this film suggests that there is a social group that can get away with anything, and in this case the rich man and his son, bring in the women for their enjoyment, and they all differ, and some of the women, apparently are not quite appreciative of their time and place, and make it known, specially one, that eventually dies, and kinda causes the film to come to an end, itself.

It has been said that the actors in Peter Greenaway's films are nothing but puppets, and I am more than likely going to disagree here, since the puppetry play, is the problem, not the story. You are here to see something, and you find that there is a certain amount of it that is ... not the kind of thing you really enjoy seeing all the time. And that zone, is often brought to you by complete nudity, and some characters not afraid to be naked and show themselves. Or in a couple of films, shown in dance, and in an incredible array of images that totally blow away your concept and idea of what dance, and movement is all about, and sometimes, I have this thought that it is a sort of idealistic thought and desire as to what the sexual chemistry can be between two people, the combinations of which, is not something that all of us can entertain, or think about.

"8 1/2 Women" is an interesting film, not as powerful as "The Pillow Book", or "Prospero's Books", or "The cook, the thief, his wife and her lover" ... the three films that mostly represent what this man's work is about, and thinking that this is all about puppetry, those 3 films destroy that notion. "The Pillow Book" is the hardest to define but the "pip" (picture within a picture) thing, is totally disorienting, but seems to be the "thinking" part of the character when it shows up. "Prospero's Books" is totally buried in the words of Shakespeare, so beautifully spoken and shown "alive" in the way that Sir John Gielgud gives them to us. It's hard to think that even he would not appreciate such an incredible idea about Shakespeare's play! And "The cook ... ", of all things, the wife gets her revenge, and probably the only film I can remember where the "war of sexes" comes alive, and is punished really hard! The hatred and the complacency and the nature of the character played by Michael Gambon, is done away with. Leaving us ... speechless!

Seeing this film, you probably need to have an open mind, and appreciate it just for what it is. I do not think that these films are strictly about "women" or "men" as much as they are about ... our freedom. Can we live with them, or without them, kind of thing ... and can we appreciate and enjoy the differences, and not use them as some form of cathecism that punishes one or the other. As I like to say, there is always a book (or an idea), in between us ... not the realilty or the truth, and I have a feeling this is what Peter Greenaway is about. And yes, for these films to work, many actors have to follow the directions, because the ideas are too wide and large to explain in one sentence to help create some kind of concept to help an actor work ... but then, really, what does that say for someone like Sir John Gielgud ... whose reading is the clearest and the prettiest sounding words of Shakespeare that you can possibly EVER hear ... and even understand!

3 1/2 GIBLOONS as it is a bit weird and gets weirder!




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