At what age do men start being so serious about sex? At what age do they stop? In Eros, a triptych of short tales by noted directors from different cultures, there's barely a good romp 'n' roll to be found. In fact, most of the men don't have sex at all, instead coupling mostly with their imaginations and unrequited desires.
If that's the point of Eros, which at times could be called Thanatos, then its three stories flow nicely into one another, although they do get better as they go along, so that could also be the reason for the order in which they're presented. And is it a surprise or an expectation that the best entry was made by a man of 93, or that the jokiest (hokiest?) comes from a forty-something American (in Hollywood, forty-something is the new twenty-something).
Eros begins with The Hand, set in 1963 Hong Kong, and written and directed by Wong Kar Wai (In the Mood for Love). It's about a young apprentice tailor (Chang Chen) and his first client (Gong Li), whose wealth seems to come from the generosity of a string of sugar daddies. When the tailor visits her elegant home for a fitting, she's making love noisily, and when she later spots his erection beneath his pants, she gives him a glorious hand job. Thus begins his fantasy life about her, which goes on for years as she declines into outright prostitution, perhaps as retribution for daring to be in charge.
Next is Equilibrium, Steven Soderbergh's comic noir about a high-strung ad man (Robert Downey Jr.), circa 1950s, who tells his shrink (Alan Arkin) all about his erotic recurring dream. As Nick relaxes on the couch and unburdens his subconscious, the distracted doctor peers out a window with binoculars and sends a paper airplane down to -- someone unseen. The story ends with a twist, but one that makes perfect psychoanalytic sense, and even builds upon the themes of fantasy and reality begun by The Hand.
Finally, the ancient-but-still-got-it Michelangelo Antonioni offers The Dangerous Thread of Things, about a real-life relationship on the outs. We meet a couple that's grown apart, and the woman especially has become a dour Miss. They walk and talk among landscapes and rock formations, which echoes the director's 1960 masterpiece, L'Avventura. Then the man has a playful fling with a voluptuous stranger -- they laugh together in bed! -- and it seems, almost supernaturally, to promise the possibility of a rejuvenation of things with his companion.
Wong's visually handsome piece is all small talk and filler between erotic gestures and obvious frustration, with a steely performance from Gong (Raise the Red Lantern), and a conclusion that seems to say you can't separate sex from love and get away with it. Soderbergh (sex, lies and videotape) doesn't beg to differ very much, and when Nick discovers the identity of the woman in his dream, it turns out passion was right there beside him.
Only Antonioni keeps it real with a vignette that's at once sexual and intellectual, erotic and metaphoric. He explores the complex coincidence of love and sex, and he tells us that we need to "let go" and rediscover our "essence" in our eroto-romantic lives. When the increasingly aloof and unhappy woman in his story finally takes off her leather jacket on the beach and spins around naked, she encounters, both figuratively and literally, another (or former) side of herself. It's not fun, but then, it's not fantasy, either. In English, and Mandarin and Italian, with subtitles.