Three Films for Grown-ups: Nine Songs, Y Tu Mamá Tambien, and The Dreamers

Paul R. Potts

I’ve experienced my share of so-called “adult” movies. For the most part, they could really be better characterized as “adolescent” — they tend to feel kind of like handicam footage taken at an extended fraternity hazing. What if you’re a grown-up and want to watch a film with some eroticism to it?

Nine Songs

From Netflix [note: back when it was a DVD rental-by-mail service], I rented Nine Songs. This is a story of a summer relationship in London between a laconic male scientist and a visiting American woman. The movie is paced as a series of brief vignettes of stages in the relationship interspersed with concert footage from nine different bands, most of which I have never heard of. The dialogue is condensed and elliptical. There is explicit sex. Eroticism is mostly about relationships — the fascination that characters feel for each other — and this is clearly a casual summer relationship. There are some weird passions that arise, but they seem to come out of nowhere and seem to me more as indications or underlying pathology than as evidence of a deepening relationship. Ultimately, I’m not sure why I should care about these characters, since they didn’t seem to care about each other. Perhaps that is the film’s message, but I just didn’t quite “get” this film, and the concert footage seemed not to add very much to the story, so I can’t really recommend it.

Y Tu Mamá Tambien

To recover from Nine Songs I watched Y Tu Mam´ Tambien (“and your mother too”). This is a terrific film by the director of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. It follows two teenage boys in between high school and college in Mexico and their adventures with a more experienced woman, Luisa. The director cuts in with voiceovers periodically over extended scenes that bring in the back-story: this movie is deeply about class.

It is erotic but always surprises you with its realistic portrayal of jealous, angry, or sad people: in one amazing scene, the boys try to get their first glimpse of Luisa naked in her hotel room, but they get a surprise and see her emotionally “naked” instead, weeping over her fractured relationship with her husband. This film has some of the best steadicam work I’ve ever seen and utterly convincing acting, as well as stunning scenery from rural Mexico; the director clearly loves and is fascinated by his subject, which is much bigger than just the naked protagonists. Highly recommended (but for grownups only).

The Dreamers

Last night I watched Bertolucci’s The Dreamers. It has some of the most amazing visuals of Paris I’ve ever seen. This is the director of Last Tango in Paris so we expect that the eroticism will be a bit warped. The plot centers around a young American who becomes friendly with a French brother and sister, set against the backdrop of the French film scene in the midst of social unrest in 1968. The twin brother and sister have a kind of pre-genital incestuous relationship and the American’s fascination with both girl and boy challenges and disturbs this equilibrium. All three are “dreamers” — insulated from reality, they view the world through their fascination with films, and Bertolucci intercuts the scenes with clips from some great films. This sounds awkward, but it does not take over the movie or become annoying. There is nudity and moderately explicit sex, and a lot of drinking and smoking and drug use, as the trio becomes more and more isolated and obsessive. There is blood and semen and urine, garbage and dirt and, in a truly painful scene, even horribly burned fondue and ratatouille — food that looked like it could have been delicious!

But what I’d like to convey, and am having difficulty conveying, is the stunning beauty of every shot in this film. Bertolucci has an amazing eye, and there is an incredible way in which the framing of each scene is poised between documentary-style naturalism and carefully-staged artificiality. It’s one of the most beautiful films I’ve ever seen. The protagonists have gorgeous bodies and the camera loves them, and it also loves the sets: on the street, in the apartments. Even the way the camera follows a character down a narrow hallway is visually fascinating. Also highly recommended, but only for grown-ups ready deal with both the sex and the politics.

Ann Arbor, Michigan
February 12, 2006

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