Drawing Restraint 9

Reviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 04/07/06 14:11:24

"Great, Bjork managed to find a director more pretentious than von Trier."
2 stars (Pretty Bad)

Having entranced/baffled both the art and film worlds with his utterly bizarre “Cremaster” cycle of films, Matthew Barney has returned with “Drawing Restraint 9 ,” a film so utterly inexplicable that it makes his previous efforts almost seem staid be comparison. This is a movie that is so strange, so self-contained and so unconcerned with explaining itself to anyone who might happen upon it that I kept waiting for Leonard Pinth-Garnell to pop up and announce it as the latest subject of “Bad Playhouse.”

Set almost entirely on a Japanese whaling vessel, the film dedicates much of its time to the sight of a mysterious Occidental couple (Barney and pop star Bjork, his real-life wife) performing any number of full-dress Asian rituals, including a traditional tea ceremony under the tutelage of a wise old man whose ability to maintain his composure, especially when faced with the sight of Bjork in an outfit and hairdo that makes her vaguely resemble Natalie Portman’s worst satorial moments from the “Star Wars” films. At the same time, the members of the crew go about their own sets of rituals, most of which appear to involve creating an enormous mold and then filling it up with petroleum jelly. This goes on for what feels like nine days (although the film actually only runs 135 minutes, almost all of them dialogue-free) until the film ends with a conclusion that is, given the surrounding circumstances, perhaps inevitable–as their stateroom slowly fills with some unidentified fluid, Barney and Bjork slowly begin slicing off pieces of each other’s bodies as if they were sushi while their wounds show evidence of once-hidden blowholes and whale fins.

“Drawing Restraint 9” is the kind of film for which a mere review is of absolutely no help. On the one hand, it is so ludicrously pretentious that even Peter Greenaway himself might accuse Barney of being too oblique. Granted, the “Cremaster” films weren’t exactly models of narrative cohesion but they at least maintained some sort of dramatic momentum for those looking at it simply as a movie instead of one part of a vast multi-media extravaganza. By comparison, “Drawing Restraint” is so oblique as to be maddening and so straight-faced and humorless as to invite uncontrollable giggles throughout. On the other hand, Barney does have a keen visual eye and manages to provide isolated images of stark and haunting beauty that stand out amidst the surrounding nonsense. Additionally, it is so utterly different from other films, even other art films, that more adventurous moviegoers might look at it as a challenge.

If you are one of the latter–the cinematic equivalent of the first person to eat squid–you might find something of value in “Drawing Restraint 9” . Even if you aren’t, you might get a kick out of the sheer weirdness of the proceedings while speculating as to how exactly Barney gets financing for such impenetrable work in the first place. Usually, I like to align myself with out-there talents striving to make deeply personal works but in the case of Matthew Barney, this particular art-world emperor reveals himself to be naked and if he isn’t ashamed, he probably should be.

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