People planning to slice their lovers' bodies into strips and consume the flesh like sushi tidbits are hereby advised to see Matthew Barney's fetishistic "Drawing Restraint 9" for a tutorial on the proper technique. As the film shows, the mutilation and cannibalism must be performed with funereal solemnity by both parties. Hacking away willy-nilly, giggling or saying "Ouch" would ruin the experience.
Barney, "the most important American artist of his generation" according to New York Times art critic Michael Kimmelman, divides his energies between sculpting in tapioca and filmmaking. In "Drawing Restraint 9" he stars with his partner Björk. They travel to a Japanese whaling ship, don kimonos, share a ritual tea ceremony, discover that they have cetacean blowholes, slice apart and dine on one another's legs, and are reborn as whales.
Intercut with their mating metamorphosis are scenes of the ship's crew filling a gigantic oval Jell-O mold with Vaseline, harpooning trash bags full of shrimp, and salvaging a clump of ambergris. That, of course, is a type of whale barf prized by perfume connoisseurs, and a fitting image for this willfully opaque project. The accolades of the art vanguard notwithstanding, Barney needs to pull his head out of his blowhole.
Drawing Restraint 9
½ out of four stars
The setup: Whales. Vaseline. Björk.
What works: There's a 5-minute Japanese dragon parade at the beginning that's rather lovely.
What doesn't: The film is a numbing 2 hours and 25 minutes.
Great scene: If you always yearned to see Björk's eyebrows shaved off, here's your chance.
Rating: Unrated by the MPAA.