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9 Songs

(2005) * Unrated
67 min. Tartan Films.

Okay, so Michael Winterbottom decides to make an art-house film in which his leading man and leading lady have real sex on camera. The film will hauntingly evoke the ephemerality of sexual heat and relationships, and it will pulse with the character of modern London's trendy club scene. Before I race to label Winterbottom's vision as midlife-crisis wanking (his film is called Nine Songs because it features the youthful punkishness of today's top Euro-rockers), let's consider for a moment.

First of all, Franz Ferdinand aside, someone already made this movie, and he did it better. It was called Intimacy, and it had the advantage of a script (based on stories by Hanif Kureishi, no less). Here, Winterbottom pretends to be a punker, going for "you are there" aesthetics marked by purposefully obscure photography and editing. You will genuinely feel as if you're in the very back of the Brixton Academy for the Dandy Warhols show! You will feel as if you're in the room with two people you wouldn't want to hang out with, watching them have sex. May I humbly suggest you go to a concert or have sex instead? Heck, do both.

There are four types of scenes here: lovers Matt (Kieran O'Brien) and Lisa (Margo Stilley) glimpsed in the crowd at the Brixton Academy, watching an act like Black Rebel Motorcycle Club; the butt-naked lovers doing it, the butt-naked lovers padding around afterwards, and Matt—who's a glaciologist—spouting pretentious aphorisms about Antarctica ("The Antarctic is the planet's memory—a memory of a time before there were people."). By the end (where the film begins), a hurt Matt vants to be alone, and who can blame him? I wanted to be alone after meeting his girlfriend; I just figured it out much faster.

Though there are precious few opportunities to learn anything substantial about these Everyfuckers, Matt seems like a pretty normal guy, whereas Lisa...well, as Matt puts it, "She was 21: beautiful, egotistical, careless, and crazy." Bow chicka bow wow... Matt left out that Lisa is unbearably annoying, but give him a break; he's in love. In fact, Winterbottom intimates that Lisa is bipolar; she's on prescription drugs, but let me tell you something: they ain't working. Maybe it's the recreational coke use.

Look, I have no beef with attempting to push boundaries—it's what I hope for in a movie. And Nine Songs has some (unexclusive) novelty in its hot music and explicit sex. But Winterbottom's execution of this concept is a like a crock pot someone forgot to plug in. Whoops...nothing happened! If the point is merely that people have hot sex, and the fire consumes itself, it's been done. Many times. So the vehicle must be carefully crafted in order to be worthwhile. Winterbottom seems incapable of finessing this into something watchable, and it's only 67 minutes long (here's a soberingly creepy stat: Winterbottom shot 200 hours of footage for this). It's a setlist, not a movie.

With consistently inane dialogue, bad acting from Stilley (one beat after a vigorous shag, she pipes, "Coffee?"), and thudding narration that toggles between thudding metaphor and bare exposition ("It was Michael Nyman's 60th-birthday concert"), Nine Songs winds up being innocuously lame cinema punctuated by sights that are unusual in modern cinemas (visible erections, penetrations, ejaculations, and oral sex) but run-of-the-mill in video-store back rooms. Yup, midlife-crisis wanking.

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