As Hollwyood movies zero in on their core demographic of dateless 14-year-old boys, European films of the art-house variety are trying to be more adult by showing more sex. Not pretend sex, to mirror the spectacles of fake violence in summer action pictures, but genuine, clinical whoopee. The French led the way, with the sex-splatter epic Baise-moi and Catherine Breillat's Romance. Now comes the first film (actually, digital video) by a respected British director--Michael Winterbottom, whose works include Welcome to Sarajevo, Jude and 24 Hour Party People--to go all the way.
9 Songs might also be called 9 Sex Acts, since it alternates between concert footage of such bands as Primal Scream and the Dandy Warhols and scenes depicting, in an unsensationally explicit fashion, the bedroom details of a summer affair. Matt (Kieran O'Brien) is a glaciologist, and Lisa (Margo Stilley) is a college girl visiting London. They have sex, go to a concert. Shag, song, shag, song. For 69 minutes.
Whenever a fiction film goes hard-core, the artifice of character and story disappears, and the movie instantly becomes a documentary record--something between a stag film and a nature special on Nova. Realizing this, Winterbottom dispenses with most of the standard narrative props: there's no Other Man, no mistaken identity, no quest. Matt and Lisa are not really people, in the multiplex-movie sense. They are performers, like the band members, working in public for our pleasure. The only drama is that, omigod, they're doing it! And one of them, O'Brien, is a professional actor. (Stilley, who has done modeling work, got the full Brit tabloid treatment when the movie came out in Britain. Her mom in North Carolina was quoted as saying, "I pray for Margo every day.")
For the record, the two are decent-looking humans--not porn deities with outsize appendages--who bring lots of energy to an endeavor that is neither lurid nor especially compelling. This is the triumph, and the limitation, of 9 Songs: it makes explicit movie sex ordinary--as ordinary as the sexual activities of most of the folks watching it. --By Richard Corliss