2000 . 1h 58m . Comedy, Drama .
Following the death of a mother, a father and son open up a brothel in their Genevan estate after watching 81/2 (1963).
Cast: John Standing, Matthew Delamere, Vivian Wu, Shizuka Inoh, Barbara Sarafian, Kirina Mano, Toni Collette, Amanda Plummer
May 26, 2000--Peter Greenaway's 8 ½ Women is a bizarre, cold, dry absurdist comedy, an almost surrealistic portrait of a father and son and their (how shall we say?) "unique" coping mechanisms in the aftermath of losing their wife and mother.
John Standing is Philip, a 55-year-old businessman, and Matthew Delamere is Storey, who runs the family pachinco parlors in Kyoto, Japan. Storey is mildly obsessive-compulsive, taking stock of his limbs before going to bed. Philip calls one night to tell Storey that his mother has died. Storey arrives at the family estate in Geneva to discover that she is, indeed, dead, and their collective reaction could be described as emotionally detached, at best. One night, Storey tries to comfort his father by sleeping naked next to him (the implication of incestuous homosexual intercourse is made, however subtly).
Storey drags his father to a cinema, showing Fellini's 8 1/2 (1963), that masterpiece of directorial flights-of-fancy in which Mastroianni imagines a mansion in which all of the women in his life co-exist to obey him, and occasionally he tames them with a whip. Father and son devise a plan - they will turn their estate into a brothel catering only to their sexual fantasies and urges, and they will populate it with 8 1/2 women (counting a poor soul in a wheelchair). There's an Austrian who the men hit with their car that ends up in various braces (Amanda Plummer), a petulant Japanese pachinco addict (Shizuka Inoh), a would-be nun (Toni Collette), an accountant (Vivian Wu) who works for their pachinco company, and a former romantic prospect (Polly Walker) who asserts her standing in the pecking order, and is soon dictating terms for her own "employment."
To describe all of this "plot" is merely to give some impression of what happens, but it is far from the experience of watching it. Peter Greenaway is a sly, sardonic Brit, known for his fascination with the creative sexual arrangements of his characters in such films as The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989) or The Draughtsman's Contract (1982). In that one, a man agreed to draw 12 pictures of different angles of a vast country estate in exchange for making use of the lady of the house whenever and however he saw fit.
His characters never say what you might expect, and always in a deadpan funny sort of way. Greenaway employs distancing devices, such as the titles which are obsessed with the cataloguing of characters, like items on a shelf rather than flesh-and-blood people. He separates his film into five "acts," each preceded by a superimposition of the first pages of that section of the film's screenplay over the images on-screen.
This isn't the sort of film you "like," per say (though I enjoyed the first half quite a bit), but it is the kind of film you admire for the nerve it took to make it. "How many film directors make films to satisfy their sexual fantasies?," one of the men asks while watching 8 1/2. Greenaway may be one.
Note: Writer-director Peter Greenaway appears uncredited.