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Wednesday, April 10, 2002

Was it good for you too, bay-bee?

Erotic Tales

Rating: * *
Running time: Two programs, 90 minutes each
Language: Various
Late show at Shibuya Joy Cinema from April 27

Erotica. What a word. Instead of titillation and excitement, it tends to suggest a third-rate peep show booth in Ueno or Times Square, the kind of place where you know, with a preordained sense of doom, that the experience will be surreal -- the equivalent of seeing your aunt on a rotating stage, sporting a sadly frayed garter belt. In the same vein, imagine if a first date called you up and said, "How's a little erotica sound?" Wouldn't it induce a quick trip to the bathroom and have you unplugging the phone?

News photo
Mira Sorvino in "The Dutch master" from "Erotic Tales"

Why is erotica so unerotic? Probably it becomes so when there's an unspoken "OK, here we go" behind it that implies planning, maneuvering, just plain work, to make sex seem sexy. All the things, when you come down to it, that are the exact opposite of sexy. Which is the hitch in "Erotic Tales," a gathering of six short films by some respected filmmakers, all trying mightily to create sexiness, then failing somehow to, uh, rise to the challenge.

Like many other films projects, this was the result of a casual conversation over dinner. Eight years ago one night, German producer Regina Ziegler was sitting around with friends, all decrying the lack of humorous or subtle erotica in the film industry today. Eventually, she roped in globally renowned directors such as Ken Russell, Fridrick Thor Fridricksson and Nicholas Roeg to proffer their individual interpretations of eros. While the idea sounds smashing, the result often disappoints, namely because the interpretations seem so straightforward and hackneyed. All these directors parade the usual tricks and not much more: corsets, lacy underwear, shiny sheets, tiny red bikinis, a Jacuzzi and, yes, the garter belt. Toujours the garter belt.

First in line is Mika Kaurismaki's "Sambolico," in which a Finnish orchestra conductor (Kari Vaananen) indulges in a little daydreaming at a Brazilian seaside resort. He sees an enticing beauty (Andrea Bloom) in the hotel elevator and his imagination unleashes itself: She's distressed and in need of his help, coquettish and bitchy, wise and immature, all at the same time! Oh, and she's a samba dancer at the local nightclub and a jealous lover is in pursuit! The conductor leaves no stone unturned in his quest for a feverishly romantic relationship with the perfect woman. (Cliche warning: The climax scene has the lovers tearing each other's clothes off and wrestling in the sand as the waves wash over them. Puh-leeeese.)

Then there's Roeg's "Hotel Paradise," another half-hour production that delights in piling on the obvious. Starring Teresa Russell and Vincent D'Onofrio, "Hotel Paradise" is, at its best, a sheer mockery of marriage ties, implying that wedlock is the furthest thing from pure eros. (Hmmm.) Roeg gives his version of what it's really about -- a woman (Russell) wakes up on the morning of her wedding day in a huge bed with pink satin sheets. Sleeping next to her is a stranger (D'Onofrio), but he vows he will never let her go. Royally pissed off but secretly excited, the woman flings herself around the room, retrieving her wedding dress and various accessories (she had tried the dress on the night before, went on a drinking binge and then onto this tryst). From the bed, the man recounts the events of the night before in very "erotic" detail, mostly having to do with the two of them in a small Jacuzzi filled with inflatable swan toys.

For originality, try "On Top Down Under" by director Fridricksson. During the middle of an Icelandic winter, a girl (Nina Gunnarsdottir) cannot forget the lover (Hilmir Snaer Gudnason) she had the previous summer and resorts to masturbating with an icicle. In the meantime, a young man delivering ice in the Australian outback, decides to kill himself by using the ice blocks in the back of his truck (you'll never guess how).

Fridricksson links sexuality with death, the only director in this collection to do so. "On Top Down Under" is also the only story that doesn't pair off man and woman but keeps them on opposite sides of the globe. Fridricksson, however, is beating his boat against the current, since the rest of "Erotic Tales" -- despite the promising gathering of cast and filmmakers -- concentrated on more traditional traditional modes of love and sex. Inclusions of gay couples or the senior set might have spiced things up, but alas . . .

At least Mira Sorvino fans will get a kick out of "The Dutch Master," directed by Susan Seidelman in 1993 and starring the then relatively unknown Sorvino, three years before her breakthrough role in "Mighty Aphrodite." In this, Sorvino plays Teresa, a New York dental assistant engaged to a cop. Her life coasts along until the day she decides to walk into the Metropolitan Museum of Art, sees an 18th-century Dutch painting and becomes obsessed. The real world and sex with her fiancee cannot compare to the stories she can actually see beyond the canvas (a handsome local youth, a priest and two young women sitting around a table) that involves pure, absolute erotica as yet unspoiled by Modern Life.

Maybe that's what's so difficult about doing erotica today: the fact that it is today.

Two programs of three movies will be shown. A Program, which starts April 27, is "Sambolico," "Hotel Paradise" and "On Top Down Under"; B Program is "The Dutch Master," "The Insatiable Mrs. Kirsch" and "Devilish Education." For more information, call the theater at (03) 3462-2539.

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