Actually, Greenaway has nearly always been laughing. It's just that many people fail to notice that. "8 1/2 Women", however, is different in that even the people who hate it (of which there will be plenty; it's Greenaway) will have no doubts that it is a comedy, and Greenaway's lightest-toned film yet.
It is a playful tribute to Fellini and Godard, and it features - prominently - understanding, affection and warmth, none of which are emotions one would have easily associated with Greenaway's previous work. (In an after-screening interview, he commented that age makes one want to look more at the better side of things.) Because this is still very much a Peter Greenaway film, the ways in which emotions such as filial love are going to be explored are going to be very quirky indeed; but to interpret the film's "taboo" scene as intended to shock is a disservice to the film, the director's intentions (and his ability to *truly* shock when he wants to - check "The Baby of Macon") and your own enjoyment.
"8 1/2 Women" is full of odd little moments (and one SPECTACULARLY odd image which I won't spoil much, except to mention that it involves a pig, a Japanese Noh performer and a stunning Swiss villa) and offbeat humour; and it is about male bonding and male delusions about women. I can see how many people have taken the facile route of viewing it as misogynistic; these people have obviously not seen the same film as I have, which is all about control from behind the scenes, strategy, and the presentation of male supremacy for what it is - a fallacy.
"8 1/2 Women" was badly received at Cannes, got a tremendous backlash against it and died a death commercially. All of which is very unfair. If you like eccentric humour, give this film a chance. It's a little Wonderland of sorts and, in its own peculiar way, far more heartwarming than the average plastic Hollywood tear-jerker.
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