8 1/2 Women (1999)
as Philip Emmenthal
as Storey Emmenthal
as Giuletta/Half Woman
as Philip's Wife
News & Interviews for 8 1/2 Women
Critic Reviews for 8 1/2 Women
The headscratching weirdness doesn't gel into a discernible emotional point.
Greenaway is always worth a look, but this one is more disorganized and half-baked than most of his work.
More than a couple taboos are broken in 8 1/2 Women and as many more are at least badly battered.
Audience Reviews for 8 1/2 Women
A weathy businessman and his son hire 9 women to participate in their private bordello. But why they do so, or what exactly is happening is unclear and seems just strange rather than interesting in any way
It's not that bad, Another bizzare movie by a Director/Painter with some hilarious moments, I really missed Michael Nyman's beautiful soundtracks in this one
"8 1/2 Women" is often perceived as Peter Greenaway's low point, and it's easy to see why. Conceived as a dark sex comedy, it has no laughs and is scarcely even sexy.
Philip and Storey Emmenthal (neither actor is familiar to me at all) are a wealthy father and his worldwise son. Philip's wife dies unexpectedly, and Storey travels from Kyoto to Geneva to be with his devastated father. They have a disturbingly candid relationship which includes open nudity, frank talk about their penises and even one implied night of sexual comforting. After watching a screening of Fellini's "8 1/2" (a surreal exchange with nearby audience members is surprisingly Woody Allen-esque and is as close as the film gets to a "funny" scene), the Emmenthals develop the idea of hosting their own harem at Philip's posh estate. They sign "8 1/2" women to contracts -- the "1/2" woman has no legs -- and embark on a fantasy lifestyle.
Each of the women has something quirky about her, though the script crucially fails to develop their characters much, once they are introduced. One is described as a "baby factory," and has borne multiple children. She is Storey's favorite. Another (Toni Collette, on the cusp of greater "Sixth Sense" fame) is a Norwegian bank clerk turned nun. Another (Amanda Plummer) has been in an equestrian accident, and is in a body brace. She has a strangely intimate bond with a large pig. The group also includes an accountant who helps run the Emmenthals' pachinko parlors (Vivian Wu, notably unconvincing in a "brainy" role), a pachinko addict, a housemaid, a bizarre kabuki actress with a shoe fetish and, most importantly, a crafty woman (Polly Walker) who becomes a dominant household figure and wins Philip's love.
The film opens with one of Greenaway's trademark "lists" -- numbered shots of eight glitzy pachinko parlors, including real-life street addresses -- but arty editing and severe lighting quickly thwart anything resembling a comic tone. Recurrent earthquakes don't help either. Greenaway also makes the puzzling choice of dividing the film into five sections, each chunk opening with a superimposed excerpt of that scene's script. Also peculiar: There is no onscreen sex in a movie about sex, and the men appear nude more often than the women (although Collette presents herself as the only name actress I have ever seen with a fully shaved crotch).
Once the harem is in place, Greenaway can't think of anything interesting to do beyond steer toward its dissolution, and the characters are so cold that one stops caring about their fate long before the film ends. In fact, the only likable person is a blushing, secondary housemaid who has just one good scene.
"How many film directors make films to satisfy their sexual fantasies?" asks Philip.
"I would imagine most of them," answers Storey.
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