Directed by Michael Winterbottom. Starring Kieran O'Brien and Margo Stilley. Unrated. Plays Thursday to Monday, January 5 to 9, at the Pacific Cinémathí¨que
I like to think-and please indulge me on this-that my reaction to the controversial 9 Songs has more to do with the limitations of Michael Winterbottom's latest cinematic experiment than with any of my own nihilistic-horndog tendencies. Hey, I'm all for full penetration, oral sex in the bathtub (or was that a foot job?), and frequent ejaculations, whether on-screen or elsewhere. Unfortunately, the sex presented here actually becomes more desultory as you get to-sort of-know Matt (Kieran O'Brien), a British glaciologist shown winging his way across Antarctica while recalling his summer fling with Lisa (newcomer Margo Stilley), an American student he met at a concert in Brixton.
The show in question features the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, who memorably open and close the movie, with seven other tunes performed throughout the tale (hence the title) by the likes of the Dandy Warhols, Super Furry Animals, and the seriously overrated Franz Ferdinand. Unlike the music, which is experienced from the same distance at which ordinary fans tend to find themselves, the physical encounters between Matt and Lisa are up close, if not entirely personal.
The appropriately named director shoots the couple's energetic sex-making (one would be hard-pressed to call this love) with a loose combination of swooning improvisation and clinical detachment, and it's an approach that becomes tedious when you realize that the people involved don't particularly like each other. As played by the reedlike Stilley, a novice but readily naked actor, spoiled-brat Lisa is pretty annoying in general. In any case, the sketchy attempts at plot aren't all that believable, as when Matt storms out of a strip club after Lisa gets turned on by a female lap dancer. Yeah, right.
I don't want to spank Winterbottom too hard here. With a résumé that runs from social docudramas like Welcome to Sarajevo and In This World to the stylishly literate Jude and the raucous 24 Hour Party People (which also featured O'Brien), the English filmmaker can afford some ambitious slip-ups. The drugs this time around are hardly worth mentioning: just a couple lines of coke that seem to have been added for the sake of the poster-just as a few minutes have been added to the brief film's actual running time in order to say it lasts 69 minutes. That's a good joke, but like most of 9 Songs, it rings hollow.