review for 9 Songs on AllMovie

9 Songs (2004)
by Brian J. Dillard review

In his quest to explore every cinematic genre he can, Michael Winterbottom has never before created one of his own. But with 9 Songs, the lauded British director posits a new hybrid: the minimalist art-porn rockumentary. Too bad it's such a snore. Plenty of other films have played the professional-actors-having-actual-sex card, but it's hard to think of another film in which explicit lovemaking comprises the bulk of the narrative. In interviews and a DVD commentary track, Winterbottom explains that his aim was to explore a relationship not through conventional narrative, but through the sexual interactions of his characters. It's an interesting idea, but his execution is flawed. Without context, it's hard to view the actors' sexual escapades with anything but prurient interest. Sure, viewers can extrapolate the characters' inner lives from the onscreen evidence. But even that intellectual exercise reveals only pedestrian themes of commitment vs. independence and love vs. passion. In the end, the only elements of 9 Songs that remotely satisfy are the eponymous musical performances, by a host of disparate artists. Even they, however, are shot with a lo-fi aesthetic that equates grainy randomness with authenticity. Winterbottom has built up a store of goodwill from audiences who cheer when his experiments succeed. This one, however, should have stayed on the drawing board.