"The Hand" tells a modernday version of "CAMILLE" with a beautiful courtesan doomed to die of a social disease (or TB?) with a handsome tailor so in love with her he can sew a complete outfit for her without ever touching her body. Sad, sad, sad, and Gong Li so beautiful and tragic.
Ėquilibrium" has Alan Arkin and Robert Downey Jr in a brief story that's a cross between Tony consulting Dr, Melfi in THE SOPRANOS and an episode of AMC's hit series MAD MEN. As a lesson in how great advertising copy is born, not made, this cannot be topped. I didn't enjoy, however, Soderbergh's superbusy direction of his stars, who wind up sounding nearly as artificially mannared as Jennifer Jason Leigh in THE HUDSUCKER PROXY. You can see why these actors jumped into the project, but it isn't all that enjoyable.
Finally, in "THE DANGEROUS THREAD OF THINGS," Michelangelo Antonioni wipes the floor with WKW and Soderbergh, and apparently he did so from an oxygen tank, flat on his back, without being able to speak to his actors. What a story he gives us! Christopher (Christopher Buchholz, the son of Horst Buchholz and nearly as good looking as his father) is married to Chloe, a beautiful young woman who now hates Christopher for the crime of boredom against her. The two of them had once been successful vineyard owners and wine merchants, but their relationship has soured when he stopped wanting to make love to her. She demands that they try to rekindle what they had with a trip to Sardinia, by the Adriatic Sea, and ultimately she prevails, though unfortunately she just picks and picks at him during this trip till he can't take it any more. "I used to love this place, but being with you here sours me on it,"she complains as they make their way through a hooded landscape of thorns and brambles.
The two of them had once lived at the time of ancient Rome, when Sardinia (in Latin, the place of little tuna -- sardo--) was an outlying province of the empire, famous for its twin towers on either side of Sardinia Bay.
Now Christopher and Chloe realize that the other tower is occupied by a second beautiful girl, a bit younger than Chloe, called Linda. Linda is the daughter of Chloe's former husband, a man who now works as a bartender in a distant city. He has left her one painting--a painting of pale orange flames, a vision of the hell he endured with Chloe. Linda displays it proudly in the living room of the tower, a life she calls "utter chaos" as she leads Christopher playfully into her bedroom and onto the tower roof. As you can imagine, Linda turns him on, but the ancient tie to Chloe makes him sad. The "dangerous thread" that unites all these people is that of incest, the unspoken word in the town where this takes place. The sea is the witness, and the souls of Sardinian victims of Roman oppression seem to howl with each wave lapping the shore. (Antonioni, though too weak to climb the stairs himself, arranged to set Linda's scenes in the exact same tower in which the UK writer DH Lawrence contracted what was then called "Roman Fever" in the winter of 1921. It is a famous tourist site, used as a rathskellar now and atmospherically restored by Antonioni's set designers to look something like it did in the days of Lawrence and Frieda.)