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United Kingdom 2004
Directed by
Michael Winterbottom
69 minutes
Rated R

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2 stars

9 Songs

Synopsis: A young couple (Margo Stilley and Kieran O'Brien) meet at a band gig and start "a relationship". It lasts until she returns to America. Matt recounts what happens.

For five decades now young people have been going to hear rock bands, taking drugs and screwing. Michael Winterbottom's latest film covers those three aspects quite comprehensively in a cinema verité style, particularly the screwing. The trouble with his approach to depicting the new-millennial version of what is now a time-honoured tradition is that a relationship, whilst it may well be realized through such activities, is in no way equivalent to them. Hence, whilst the film in itself is a technically polished work, Winterbottom's claim that he is showing us the progress of a relationship through the couple's sexual and musical interactions pretty much fails to hold water. What we get are a lot of undifferentiable contemporary pop bands such as The Von Bondies, The Dandy Warhols, Super Furry Animals and Franz Ferdinand banging away about their post-adolescent angst alternated with Kieran O'Brien and Margo Stilley playing with each other's genitalia.

Not that this is a pornographic film but the cynical may be inclined to see it as sexploitational. There is one scene involving a bondage fantasy that does work well to relay the psychological mechanism underpinning the couple's relationship (although repeating it later in the film only serves to lessen its effectiveness, whatever one may make of the prominent Vogue scarf) but there is no comparable justification for a close-up of Ms Stilley's vulva or having to watch her riding home her partner's considerable schlong.

Margo Stilley, an untrained actress and sometime fashion model, is a captivating screen presence although as she requested that her name not appear in the credits (a request evidently ignored) it seems she won't be rushing back to the camera. Kieran O'Brien on the other hand seems largely to have got the job on the size of his God-blessed member. We have had various "challenging" movies in recent years that have featured explicit sex - Baise Moi, Irreversible and Anatomie de l'Enfer - none have managed to demonstrate that the depiction of the physiology of sex, the domain of the pornographic film, no matter how extensive or explicit, in itself satisfactorily communicates its psychological affect.

Notwithstanding, I would have been willing to credit Winterbottom's film with achieving a certain melancholy resonance had it finished on the penultimate scene which leaves the abandoned Matt in an emotional Antarctica (the metaphor for the relationship) once he has been effectively dumped by his cold-as-ice girlfriend. The director however opts for another tuneless song which only serves to displace any quotient of sympathy accrued for our hapless lover or the film.

This film will probably appeal if you can identify with its protagonists and know (and like) the bands involved. If however you were screwing to the sounds of The Rolling Stones, The Clash, The Cure or perhaps even Oasis, you're most likely too old to give a toss about 9 Songs.




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