"Typically bizarre and challenging Greenaway film about a man whose wife suddenly dies and can't get past the grief stage. His son moves in with him and they "reestablish" their relationship in a most unorthodox way. Literally. So the son concocts a way to help his father snap out of it. They turn the father's estate into a brothel of sorts with a strange array of women they "collect". This creates a rather Fellini-esque atmosphere and causes some friction among the ladies as well as a couple of their deaths. One woman challenges the rules and turns the tables on the men leading to the father's ultimate death wish and the son's turn to grieve. Greenaway allows the film to run from outlandish black comedy to sadly depressing---a gamut that kind've negates everything we've seen and experienced thus far. There's ample male nudity, bizarre costumes, a truly odd turn from Amanda Plummer as one of the women, striking color and rampant symbolism throughout which makes it a feast for the eyes. If you're a Greenaway fan it's an unusual ride. But I wouldn't recommend it for first time viewers who may find it heavy going."
Very challenging film
email@example.com | Las Vegas, NV | 06/10/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
"When I consider the state of sex in American films today, "American Pie 2" comes to mind. The sex here is treated in the usual leering, juvenille manner. All of the people are young, and it's the women who are expected to disrobe, and hint at lesbian encounters. The scene where the two coeds demand that the two men kiss each other before doing each other treats anything from this norm as aberrant behavior. As long as the subject is treated in this cookie-cutter manner, our country will show sex, and not actually explore it as the strong human emotion it is. The strong point of "8 1/2 Women" is that is challenges our thoughts of what sexuality can be in ways that are ignored in this country. The movie hits the ground running as we encounter the two main characters, a middle-aged man and his twenty-something son shortly after the older man's wife dies. We not only see full-frontal male nudity, a rarity in this country. But what is also somewhat shocking is not that they are interested in man-on-man encounters, but encounters between father and son. Sons wanting to sleep with their mothers have been explored before, but dad and son is something to think about.After this eye-opening scenario, the movie continues to challenge. Faced with seemingly unlimited wealth, the two decide to build a sexual playground to try and appease what must be a major league middle-age crisis by the father. They encounter and recruit a handful of women to come live with them and play out their fantasies. This is also where the film has it's strong points. The closest I can remember to this film is "Sirens", the Australian film that featured an artist surrounded by nubile females, among them Elle McPherson. But even that film was probably too hot for America to touch, and even this film filled it with very good looking women of the same cut. "8 1/2 Women" brings in all kinds of women from beautiful to hideous, dominent to submissive. Once again, it shows that while Playboy magazine shows an attractive cut of women, it is not the only source for sex in the world.I'm not saying I agree with all the choices, and they are diverse enough where most people also would not go for all of them. But that's the good point of the movie. By busting through cinematic stereotypes of how we think about sex, it shows that it is a subject that can be pursued by anyone, not just the "beautiful people" class."
Allow me to defend "8 1/2 Women"....
-¦- | over here. | 07/11/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I've recently found myself being pulled into a swirling vortex of obsession with the works of Peter Greenaway. The man creates such a distinct atmosphere with the staging of his films, the cinematography, and the sets embodying a lavishness and beauty that clashes against dark, audacious, perverse, and indeed evil themes to cause a fascinating cacophony. Much of his output could be classified as surreal simply because of this instantly palpable dissonance.
"8 1/2 Women" is no different. Yes, it doesn't have the viciousness of "The Cook, The Thief...", or the delicious puzzlement of "Drowning By Numbers", but what it does have is the unmistakable Greenaway atmosphere and an air of utmost dream-like elegance, once again grinding against frank sexual obsession and perversion and an uncontrollable spiral of loss and grief.
I'll leave the plot details that are to be found in other reviews, but will say that I found this film a joy to watch. From the very beginning (particularly the experimental and kinetic sequence that opens the film), I was enthralled. With Greenaway, sometimes you don't want to look, but you can't turn away (to spoil the surprise a bit, the infamous incest incident is not shown...only very strongly implied). As the film wears on, it does take on a more fragmented, slice-o-life type of approach, but the episodal manner in which the progress of the bordello is documented actually conveys the chaos well. In such an arrangement, the only way to really give an idea of the vibes surrounding the downfall of the house is to give examples, then tell us how it finally came to self-destruct... which is done. Those who complain about lack of closure can only be speaking about the question of what becomes of the son after the house empties itself, but how much do you want handed to you? The movie is 2 hours long! A case of "The meal was terrible.. and the portions too small!"
Speaking of which, I'll end the review saying that those who hated it.... give it another chance? You know by now that half of the magic of Greenaway's idiosyncratic films is visual. Nobody has denied the beauty of "8 1/2 Women". So let yourself sink into that odd beauty, and maybe you'll be able to appreciate the distinct and conscious style that the characters execute."
Great film for Greenaway fans... not for everyone
Greenaway fan | Dallas, TX USA | 10/11/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Peter Greenaway is a master at visuals. Most Greenaway films, such as "A Zed and two Noughts", "The Draughtsmen's Contract" and "The Cook the Thief His Wife and Her Lover", appear like a moving painting with vivid color and dazzling images. Although all are great films, their plots can be confusing with the lack of common dialogue and character development. 8 1/2 Women does have some very nice visuals, though less intense compared to his previous works, and a story line that is much easier to follow than prior films, with a bit more character development, but still peculiar circumstance. The film's focus is the unusual relationship between a newly widowed husband, Phillip(John Standling) and his son, Storey(Matthew Delamere). After a viewing of Fellini's 8 1/2, the father and son become inspired to "collect" a variety of women (8 and 1/2 - one being pregnant) for their physical and emotional pleasure, creating a distraction to the death of the wife/mother. Amanda Plummer and Toni Collette give strong supporting performances as two of the very bizarre women in the collection. The film moves slowly at times, but the right combination of excellent performances, bizarre characters, dry comedic dialogue and dazzling visuals make it a must see for Greenaway fans and independent film lovers. The sexual content and story line may make many viewers uncomfortable and confused. Definitely an acquired taste."
Mixed Effort From A Great Filmmaker
thornhillatthemovies.com | Venice, CA United States | 04/12/2005
(2 out of 5 stars)
"Peter Greenaway's films are always a challenge, even for his most devoted admirers. I am a member of that group. I traveled 90 minutes each way to see his new film '8 1/2 Women'. His films are incredibly (really, an understatement) complex, both visually and narratively. Like most filmmakers, he has his ups ('The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover', 'The Pillow Book', 'Drowning By Numbers' and 'The Draughtsman's Contract') and his downs ('A Zed and Two Naughts', 'Belly of An Architect'). Unfortunately, '8 1/2 Women' is not one of his best.
I read a review of the film that stated it was his most accessible in years. Yes, I can see that. This means that Greenaway has stripped away six or seven layers of narrative that usually happen concurrently in his best films. He has dumbed down the visual style while retaining a story that is not very focused.
We seem to be experiencing a bit of a trend. Some of the most intelligent filmmakers are dumbing down their work to reach a new audience while dissatisfying their core audience. Woody Allen's latest film is a farce with none of the depth he is known for. The result? 'Small Time Crooks' will probably be his most successful film in years. Robert Towne created an overly simplistic blueprint for the stunts in 'Mission Impossible 2'. The result? The screenplay works, but the audience is told the core of the mission six times. Now Greenaway directs a film with one layer of narrative, robbing his own film of the richness and depth he has done before. What's next? Martin Scorcese directing Leonardo DiCaprio? Oh, that's actually happening.
If you have never seen a Peter Greenaway film, and most of you probably haven't, a little background is probably in order. Greenaway is a painter and spent some time doing set design for operas. He brings both of these sensibilities to his films. When the film is good, it is a glorious mixture of all of these elements creating truly beautiful films. His longtime cinematographer, Sacha Vierny, is a great asset to the visual style. He also likes to experiment with words and narrative. For instance, the beginning of 'The Pillow Book' combined a layer of film that had Japanese Calligraphy, the writing of the Pillow Book, and two separate scenes going on on top of that. Your eye is always watching something. Your mind is always working. In 'Drowning By Numbers', the numbers 1 through 100 appear in the actual film in some form or another. In 'The Cook, The Thief...', each separate room in an elaborate restaurant has a color scheme of it's own, affecting the color of the character's clothing. '8 1/2 Women' makes a brief attempt at combining various elements, showing pieces of the screenplay with insets of pachinko parlors. The rest of the film is set in a single estate. Frankly, most of the film appeared grainy.
A rich Geneva banker and pachinko parlor owner mourns the loss of his wife. His son tries to comfort his father and suggests, after watching Fellini's '8 1/2', that they fill the house with a harem of women. This will help the father to experience the variety of sexual activity that he has recently discovered and also make the house seem less empty. The pachinko parlors are really a very weak point of the story. It seems to merely serve as a method for Greenaway to introduce Asian females into the story line.
As the father and son populate the harem (with the likes of Amanda Plummer, Toni Collette, Vivian Wu and Polly Walker), they talk incessantly. In most of Greenaway's works, the characters have lengthy conversations, but they were far more interesting. He seems to be trying to shock us with words rather than images in this film. Yes, there is a lot of nudity, both male and female, but it doesn't shock. The discussions they have concerning beastiality, incest, etc., are simply boring.
His films also take a while to make it to the US. Because of this, he frequently can attract up and coming stars to appear in his films, usually nude, before they are really famous. As I mentioned, Toni Collette (Best Supporting Actress nominee for 'The Sixth Sense', 'Muriel's Wedding') appears in the film as a Swedish nun. In 'The Pillow Book', Ewan McGregor played a central part. He has also had Ralph Fiennes and Julia Ormond in his films.
Greenaway has created some of the best films I have ever seen and experienced. Greenaway is a master filmmaker and definitely deserves a larger audience. Unfortunately, this film isn't that good. "