Friday, March 18, 2005

Title: 9 Songs
Cast: Kieran O'Brien, Margot Stilley
Director: Michael Winterbottom

With 9 Songs director Michael Winterbottom wants to explore a relationship between a man and a woman via the physical side of their interaction. Matt (Kieran O'Brien) is a glaciologist arriving in Antarctica and looking back on his recent relationship with Lisa (Margot Stilley). He flashes back to when they first met, at a concert by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, where they are both on drugs and end up back at Matt's flat having sex. This establishes the pattern for the film, the couple having sex, interspersed with the titular 9 songs from gigs that they attend.

9 Songs is a sparse film, with a particularly raw approach to both the songs and the sex. With little dialogue coming from the improvised scenes that the film is comprised of. To a degree we see the relationship progress and change, from the raw passion of first encounter, through the more relaxed and experimental phases. This moves on, she no longer wants to go to every gig he does, she gets more pleasure from her vibrator than from sex with him. So from the day trips, the visit to a strip bar, and the occasional conversations we get some sense of who these people are and the relationship that exists between them.

But this relies on the ability of the audience to extrapolate from bare events. The film has so little dialogue that there really isn't anything to go on past the sex. And the 69-minute film is comprised of little other than the sex and the rock and roll. The sex is also particularly explicit, pushing the boundaries of what can be shown in the cinema, in the way films like the Lars von Trier's Idiots or Catherine Breillat's Romance. With that 9 Songs is the most sexually explicit British film ever; the previous film Intimacy doesn't count despite being shot in the UK and adapted from a short story by the British writer Hanif Kureishi, since it was directed by a French man and funded by the French. As with any film that is released in the UK that pushes the bounds, there is a degree of controversy, the fact that 9 Songs is comprised of little other than sex and pretty much shows everything they could show, then it shouldn't be surprising that it has caused a stir.

Is 9 Songs pornography? I don't think so, the approach to the sex and the way the film has shot doesn't tend towards the lascivious and excessive nature of regular pornography. Sure there are sexual acts shown in all their glory, but the approach is more about the natural relation between a man and a woman and what they would do in the course of that relation. Of course that doesn't make it art or necessary to do in the first place. Although one of the most annoying things that happens in most films is the fake-sex, Hollywood fake sex tending to more gratuitous and exploitative for me. So by comparison the approach in 9 Songs has more honesty.

In the end, for me, 9 Songs would have benefited from more dialogue, more human conversation that actually gave you an idea of who these people were and why they were together. The music is a central factor in the film, taking in performances by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, The Von Bondies, Super Furry Animals, Elbow, The Dandy Warhols, Franz Ferdinand and Michael Nyman. What you make of the music and the bands might well have an impact on what you make of 9 Songs, if these are your favourite bands, then you might love the series of live performances that are included. Personally the music wasn't very interesting, I didn't like any of the bands, and the only performance I enjoyed at all was the anomalous one that was provided by Michael Nyman. Last year's Code 46 by Michael Winterbottom was something I enjoyed a lot, with not enough dialogue and only 1 of 9 songs being of interest, I can't say I was especially convinced by 9 Songs.

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