Film review: 'Restraint' oozes with Vaseline

Published: Friday, June 16 2006 12:00 a.m. MDT

DRAWING RESTRAINT 9 — * 1/2 — Matthew Barney, Bjork; not rated, probable R (nudity, violence).

Sad to say, the new Matthew Barney opus, "Drawing Restraint 9," made in collaboration with his main squeeze, Bjork, doesn't advance the Barney oeuvre an inch past where he left it with his massive, megalomaniacal opus known as the "Cremaster" series.

"Cremaster" was a five-part, many-hour movie, a Wagnerian exploration of Barney's personal world of symbols and rituals, and a major experiment with the power of monotony. It was made with a high Hollywood sheen but with a very un-Hollywood pace. It was full of obscure and hermetic ideas, odd characters, very little dialogue, some ravishing nature cinematography and a lot of Vaseline.

Yes, Vaseline, one of those strange obsessions of Barney.

In "Drawing Restraint 9," for which Bjork provided music, and in which she and Barney appear as characters, the Vaseline is back. There are great tanker trucks filled with it, great vats bubbling and overflowing with it. It is sluiced into molds and chilled. And in one lunch-churning scene, it seems to be the base fluid in which Barney and Bjork float, while flaying off each other's lower extremities with large whaling knives. Or maybe not. Vaseline, like everything else in a Barney opus, is an elusive substance.

To the extent that "Drawing Restraint 9" has a plot it is this: A man and a woman board a Japanese ship. The ship takes to the sea, where the man and woman meet, and perhaps fall in love. They are joined together in a ritual of masochistic transformation that turns them into whales. A great deal of Vaseline is spilled in the process.

If that sounds like a string of non sequiturs, well, welcome to Matthew Barney's world.

"Drawing Restraint 9" is not rated but would probably receive an R for nudity, violence and large quantities of Vaseline. Running time: 135 minutes.