IN I WANT YOU, a moody guy named Martin comes home after spending eight years in prison for murder. In the course of moping and wandering around aimlessly, he beats up another guy who's threatening a young mute boy named Honda. Due to this—there's no other apparent reason—Honda's sister Smokey falls in love with Martin and mopes around after him. She also happens to be the lead singer in a local mopey rock band, whose music lies somewhere between the Cowboy Junkies and Portishead. But unfortunately for Smokey, Martin's still hung up on a local hairdresser, Helen, who is the daughter of the man Martin was imprisoned for murdering.
I Want You
Directed by Michael Winterbottom
Starring Rachel Weisz, Alessandro Nivola, Luka Petrusic, Labina Mitevska
Opens June 4 at Varsity
It all sounds like the setup for a snakey thriller or a contemporary noir like Red Rock West—a movie that, not incidentally, Martin and Smokey watch at one point in the course of I Want You. But it takes I Want You about an hour to lay out the information in the previous paragraph, and after that it doesn't go much further. In fact, in terms of plot, there is exactly one actual event in the whole of this movie—"event" being defined as an action that has consequences for the characters, as opposed to actions that take up time without anyone's behavior being affected one way or the other. And after that, the movie ends.
Fans of this film—and there are some—would probably argue that the movie's not about plot, it's about images and emotions. There are, admittedly, lots of images and emotions on display. Martin and Helen have such a deeply conflicted past relationship that she vomits the first time she sees him again face to face. Honda has somehow acquired some very expensive recording equipment, and he creates arty sound collages—many of which play over impressionistic sex scenes—to express the things he himself cannot say. The lighting is unique—some might call it evocative, others might say murky—and director Michael Winterbottom has really gone to town with color filters and visual distortions.
In fact, there are a few too many images, and they lead the story down questionable paths. For example: Why is Helen a hairdresser? So that there can be scenes in which she sensually draws wet hair through her fingers. Why does the house she inherited have an indoor swimming pool? To accommodate luminous blue shots of her swimming. Does it seem contradictory that she's working as a hairdresser when her dead father was able to afford such a well-appointed mansion? Well, yes. There's a tossed-off comment that she's been trying to sell the place for years, but that doesn't really help explain the practical facts of the character's life. Maybe I'm jaded, but if I'm going to spend an hour and a half watching actors work themselves into a lather of emotional torment, I'd like them to do it in circumstances resembling reality. Without that, I can't get involved; everything happens in a vacuum. It's a stylish vacuum, with lots of heavy breathing and meaningful gazes, but all the clever camera angles can't make up for the lack of substance.