8 1/2 Women

This boring bit of European soft porn features characters who never stop talking about their private parts, the private parts of others, and sex. They also have huge piles of sex, in various unsettling combinations and situations, though this is never shown. It’s the rough equivalent of a sighted person explaining a Jackie Chan movie to a blind man: You get the idea, but frankly, hearing about it without seeing it is dull.

Not that actually seeing the sex would make the film any better; it would just make it more titillating. Writer/director Peter Greenaway apparently thinks his film is funny, and while there are some humorous moments (a man’s refusal to wear black to a funeral results in his assistants giving him the black clothes right off their backs), the tone is overall too muted, the emotions too restrained, to cause anything more than a mild chuckle.

The story is of a millionaire businessman named Philip Emmenthal (John Standing) whose wife dies suddenly. Seeking to help him re-find his sexuality and sense of excitement, his son, Storey (Matthew Delamere), talks to him about sex. All kinds of sex, with all kinds of people. They look at each other’s naked bodies. They sleep naked together. They engage in threesomes with women. The sex just never stops, and soon Philip is as caught up in the whole lifestyle as Storey.

As I said, none of this sex is shown. It is merely discussed. Endlessly.

Eventually, father and son put together a harem of 8 1/2 women — the “half” refers to the fact that one of the women is an amputee, just one example of the film’s grotesque misogyny. These women fulfill the men’s various fetishes (one shaves her head; one paints herself like a Geisha) and live in the mansion, enjoying lives of luxury in exchange for their bodies.

Greenaway may have intended a point with the film’s final act, in which things go slightly awry at the harem. But none of the characters learns anything, and no one comes out any better than when they started (except, arguably, for the ones who wind up dead).

Befitting the film’s attitude, the performances are porn-quality, the actors speaking their lines quietly and without conviction.

Early on, before he comes to embrace the hedonism, Philip says, “All this narcissism is rather boring, isn’t it?”

I love it when movies review themselves.

D (; R, virtually non-stop male and female nudity, non-stop sexual discussion, vulgarity and profanity.)