Michael Winterbottom's short, serious, tedious sex drama 9 Songs begins with a somber introduction to Matt (Kieran O'Brien), a British glaciologist flying over an Antarctic landscape and remembering Lisa (Margo Stilley), the 21-year-old American woman with whom, for the rest of the film, he will attend rock concerts and have sex in London.
It's not Lisa's clothing that Matt remembers, but rather "her smell, her taste, her skin touching mine." This isn't quite banal enough to be insightful, although I doubt Winterbottom (Welcome to Sarajevo) set out to explore the banality of sex. (If he did, then kudos: I get it.) Later, after we watch the couple in bed, Matt tells us that he "works on a continent of ice, a place no man had ever been until the 20th century." Clearly, a metaphor: Replace "been" with "understood" and you're talking about sex.
No, wait. The Kama Sutra, de Sade: These guys knew about sex, too. Just after Matt tells us that he met Lisa at a concert, Winterbottom cuts to their first sexual encounter. We don't see them meet, don't hear their small talk, don't see the seduction. We know all of that stuff. What we don't know is how people have sex, so that's what we see.
Well, actually, we do know. We just like watching it more.
At an appropriate 69 minutes long -- although, ironically, Matt and Lisa don't actually perform the "lovemaking of the crow," as Vatsyayana calls it -- 9 Songs is barely unbearable. The title refers to the grunge rock and power ballads performed on stage between copious couplings. The mood and lyrics of the songs reflect the themes of the lovers' relationship, so at least in that regard, 9 Songs is like a WB series. A gentle piano solo is the theme music of penetration, warm baths and cunnilingus.
The sex in 9 Songs is "real," as they say, a circumstance that's neither here nor there. Imagining actors having sex may be titillating, but watching it only made me think: Hey, they're having sex, good for them, wish I could be. Winterbottom's camera neither lingers on intimate genital close-ups nor shies away. Still, the sex isn't particularly stimulating because the drama isn't. I guess it's the cinematic equivalent of only being really turned on by your lover's brains.
Winterbottom structures his film as a series of short casual scenes that dissolve into one another. We're told almost nothing about how Matt and Lisa live when they're apart, so we don't learn how little (or how much) a public life echoes (or contradicts) a private life. Or course, it shouldn't: That's why we have sex in bed, rather than, say, in supermarkets, or on the first-base line at PNC Park. But to the degree that there are any intriguing disparities, Winterbottom doesn't teach us anything about them.